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Regional Oral History Office 
The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 

Ansel Adams 

With Introductions by 
James L. Enyeart 

Richard M. Leonard 

An Interview Conducted by 
Ruth Teiser and Catherine Harroun 
in 1972, 1974, and 1975 

Copy No. 
(c) 1978 by The Regents of the University of California 

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a 
legal agreement between the Regents of the University 
of California and Ansel Adams, dated September 15, 
1978. The manuscript is thereby made available for 
research purposes. All literary rights in the 
manuscript, including the right to publish, are 
reserved to Ansel Adams during his lifetime or, if 
deceased, to the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust 
until December 31, 1989. No part of this manuscript 
may be quoted for publication without the written 
permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library 
of the University of California at Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for 
publication should be addressed to the Regional 
Oral History Office, 486 Library, and should include 
identification of the specific passages to be quoted, 
anticipated use of the passages, and identification 
of the user. 

The legal agreement with Ansel Adams requires 
that he or, if deceased, the Ansel Adams Publishing 
Rights Trust be notified of the request and allowed 
thirty days in which to respond. 

It is recommended that this oral history be 
cited as follows: 

Ansel Adams, "Conversations with Ansel 
Adams," an oral history conducted 1972, 
1974, 1975 by Ruth Teiser and Catherine 
Harroun, Regional Oral History Office, 
The Bancroft Library, University of 
California, Berkeley, 1978. 

Photograph by Pirkle Jones 

Ansel Adams receiving honorary degree from the University 
of California, Charter Day, 1961. 

Left to right: President Clark Kerr, Ansel Adams, Professor 
Joel Hildebrand 


INTRODUCTION by James L. Enyeart i 

INTRODUCTION by Richard M. Leonard vii 


INTERVIEW I 12 May 1972 1 

Education and the Creative Process 1 

Family Background and Childhood 2 

Studying the Piano 6 

Beginning in Photography 7 

Youthful Experiences 9 

Visualization and Music 12 

Anticipation in Music and Photography 13 

Mariner Photographs of Mars 16 

"Monolith, the Face of Half Dome" 17 

Literary Titles for Photographs 18 

Portraiture 20 

Manzanar 23 

Early Days and Scientific Concepts 26 

The 1915 Fair 28 

Religious Concepts and Cemeteries 32 

Aesthetics and Ecology 36 

INTERVIEW II 13 May 1972 37 

Photographic Equipment 37 

Photography and Technology 40 

Innovations and Patents 43 

Innovations and Aesthetic Demands 44 

Making Photographs and Printing Negatives 44 

Photographs as Commodities 47 

Photography and Politics 49 

Group f/64 49 

INTERVIEW III 14 May 1972 52 

Stieglitz 52 

Influences 56 

Taste, Perspective, and Distortion 58 

The Photogram 62 

Nuclear Bombs and Photographic Materials 63 

Nature Photographs: Points of View 64 

Quality Levels and Portraits 67 

Albert Bender 69 

Commissions 70 

Albert Bender and His Friends 72 

Cedric Wright 75 

Musicians and Artists 77 

Cults, Controls, and Creativity 81 

Prints: Tangible and Intangible Aspects 83 

INTERVIEW IV 19 May 1972 87 

The Group f/64 Exhibit 87 

Meters, Lenses, and Film Speeds 91 

Brigman, Van Dyke, Edwards, and Cunningham 94 

Parmelian Prints 97 

Noskowiak, Weston, Swift, Holder, Kanaga, and Lavenson 99 

Brett Weston and Edward Weston 102 

Applied Photography 104 

Giving Photography Museum Status 105 

Camera Clubs, Groups, and Galleries 110 

The Golden Gate International Exposition Exhibit 113 

Timing in Photography 115 

Edwin Land and the Polaroid Camera System 117 

INTERVIEW V ~ 20 May 1972 121 

Mortensen 121 

Vision and Photography 122 

Flash Mishaps 125 

Photographic Printing Papers 127 

Writing the Basic Photography Books 129 

The Zone System 131 

Meters and Automation 133 

Technique in Relation to Aesthetics 137 

Science and the Creative Photographer 138 

Sensitometry as a Creative Tool 142 

Contemporary Images 146 

The Nude 147 

Contrivance, Arrangement, and Simulation 149 

Meaning, Shape, and Form 151 

Time and Reevaluation 153 

The Photo League and Politics 154 

Working With Dorothea Lange 158 

Early Visits to New Mexico 159 

INTERVIEW VI 26 May 1972 159 

Indian Art and Architecture 165 

Ella Young 168 

Santa Fe People 172 

Taos Pueblo 175 

Paul Strand and a New Approach 181 

Santa Fe People, Continued 183 

Taos Pueblo, Continued, and The Land of Little Rain 186 

More Southwest Friends and Experiences 190 

INTERVIEW VII 27 May 1972 197 

The Reproduction of Photographs 199 

Viewing Photographs 206 

Light Sources and Light Measurement 209 

Technological Advances in Photographic Films 211 

"The Negative is Like the Composer's Score" 215 

Beauty or Therapy? 220 

Astronomical Photography and Videotape 221 

INTERVIEW VIII 29 May 1972 227 

Early Years in Yosemite 227 

Mountain Trips With Francis Holman 232 

Perils and Close Calls 236 

Sierra Club Trips 240 

Yosemite, Continued 244 

Photography Workshops and Aspiring Amateurs 246 

Joseph N. LeConte in the Sierra 249 

The Half Dome Cable 252 

Logic and Faith 254 

Panchromatic Plates 256 

Dreams and Heavenly Bodies 261 

Concepts of Conservation and Wilderness 264 

Yosemite Concessions 265 

INTERVIEW IX 2 June 1972 266 

Sierra Club Photographers 266 

Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail 267 

Skiing in the Mountains 276 

The Sierra and Other Ranges 279 

Alaska 281 

Aerial Photography 283 

Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada 287 

Yosemite Photography Workshops 291 

INTERVIEW X 3 June 1972 296 

Skill in Music and Photography 296 

The Friends of Photography 301 

Museums and Critics 305 

Proper Disposition of Photographs 311 

Financial Practicalities 313 

Original Prints 314 

One-Man Shows 318 

The Creative Intention 320 

Exhibit Prints and Archival Factors 321 

INTERVIEW XI 4 June 1972 324 

Printing Earlier Photographers' Negatives 324 

Eastern Visit, 1933 328 

The Stieglitz Exhibit and the Adams Gallery 335 

35 Millimeter and 2 1/4 Cameras 337 

Photographs for Magazines 342 

Assignments 346 

Working With Dorothea Lange, Continued 348 

Wartime Work 351 

Problems Encountered 353 

"Making" and "Shooting" Photographs 359 

Printing and Papers 361 

INTERVIEW XII 30 June 1972 363 

More on Photography Workshops 363 

Teachers and Critics 369 

The Development of the Zone System 372 

The Art Center School 372 

The California School of Fine Arts 374 

Large Photographs 375 

Photographing a Potash Mine 379 

Photographing the Carlsbad Caverns 381 

Preserving Negatives 383 

The Late Thirties and the Fair 386 

Photographic Industry Attitudes 387 

INTERVIEW XIII 1 July 1972 389 

A Pageant of Photography 389 

Land, Kennedy, Stieglitz, Norman, and Steichen 391 

A Pageant of Photography, Continued 394 

Aspects of Edward Weston 398 

Landscape Photography and Taste 400 

The Museum of Modern Art 401 

"The Family of Man" 403 

Nancy Newhall 404 

Various Exhibitions 405 

Geraldine McAgy and Lisette Model 409 

Frank Lloyd Wright 411 

Civil War and Frontier Photographs 413 

More on the Manzanar Photographs 415 

Museums and Galleries 417 

Yosemite Today 422 

INTERVIEW XIV 2 July 1972 423 

Richard McGraw 423 

Publications 425 

Guggenheim Fellowships 431 

Morgan & Lester, Morgan & Morgan 436 

Color in Photography 440 

Portfolios and Publishing, 1948-1952 444 

Aperture Edited by Minor White 449 

Beaumont and Nancy Newhall 456 

Traveling Exhibits 459 

"This is the American Earth" 462 

Ecology and Rationality 471 

Book Publishing 473 

INTERVIEW XVI 8 July 1972 478 

Work in Progress 478 

The Pageant of History in Northern California 479 

Making Photographs, 1972 488 

Reproduction Rights 490 

More Books 493 

Government-Sponsored Exhibits 496 

Photography Critics 499 

Honors and Hawaii Books 501 

INTERVIEW XVII 9 July 1972 503 

Photographing Wineries and Vineyards 503 

Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch 508 

"Images and Words" Workshops 511 

The Design of Printed Material 513 

Scientists and Optics 515 

Working With the Polaroid Corporation 521 

Revising the Basic Photography Books 527 

Hawaii Books, Continued 529 

Signed Prints and Limited Editions 532 

INTERVIEW XVIII 14 July 1972 534 

Dreams 534 

1963 Exhibition and The Eloquent Light 534 

Traveling Prints and "Theme Shows" 538 

Honors 541 

Fiat Lux 543 

Illustrating Jeffers and Other Writers 558 

What Does a Photograph Do? 561 

Conflicts and Friendships 562 

INTERVIEW XIX 15 July 1972 565 

More on Reproduction Rights 565 

Darkrooms 569 

Darkroom Tour 572 

Formulas and Procedures 578 

INTERVIEW XX (Sierra Club Interview I) 16 July 1972 582 

Early Aesthetic Impact of Yosemite 582 

"Some Wild Experiences" 585 

Animals and People in the National Parks 587 

Sierra Club Indoctrination, 1923 594 

Concepts and Techniques of Conservation 595 

Forces For and Against Conservation 601 

Balancing Preservation and Recreation 606 

INTERVIEW XXI (Sierra Club Interview II) 11 August 1972 608 

Sierra Club People 608 

Hetch Hetchy 613 

Atomic Power Plants 615 

Private Interests and the Public Interest 617 

The Sierra Club and the Government 622 

The Park Service and the Forest Service 624 

Trans-Sierra Highways, Continued 632 

The National Geographic and the Sierra Club Bulletin 636 

INTERVIEW XXII (Sierra Club Interview III) ~ 12 August 1972 637 

Sierra Club Outings 637 

More Sierra Club People 643 

Sierra Club Campaigns 646 

Protection and Overprotection 653 

Citizens' Campaigns 659 

The Sierra Club and Its Chapters 661 

INTERVIEW XXIII (Sierra Club Interview IV) -- 13 August 1972 664 

Sierra Club Publications 667 

Zoning 671 

The Sierra Club Decision-Making Structure 672 

Leadership Conflicts 675 

Publication Problems 680 

Conservation Conferences 683 

Gifted People 684 

Conflicts, Continued 686 

Preserving Wilderness Through Legislation 690 

INTERVIEW XXIV (Sierra Club Interview V) 8 September 1972 691 

The Sierra Club Foundation 694 

Dams and Reservoirs 696 

Transferring Properties to Public Ownership 699 

A Western Club or a National Club? 705 

Protecting and Administering Public Lands 706 

The Alaska Pipeline 708 

"The Conscience of the Board" 709 

A Publications Program 714 

The Future of the Sierra Club 716 

INTERVIEW XXV 19 May 1974 721 

Recent Exhibits 721 

Polaroid Prints 725 

Lighting Pictures 725 

Plans 726 

INTERVIEW XXVI 23 February 1975 

Art Festival at Aries 727 

Images 1923-1974 729 

White House Visit 735 

Park Problems and Solutions 736 

Death of Nancy Newhall 740 

More on the Friends of Photography 741 

Future and Recent Events 743 

INDEX 748 


INTRODUCTION, by James L. Enyeart 

Ansel Adams has often said that he is "incapable of verbalization on 
the content" of his photographs. "If a photograph does not say it, words or 
explanation cannot help." However, as the following interview will reveal, 
Ansel Adams is a most capable spokesman on his work and a great many other 
topics. When he says "verbalization," he means his inability to interpret 
or put into words the meaning of his photographs and, in that, he is not alone. 
Eloquent words by critics or historians may compliment, describe, or serve in 
other ways an artist's creations but, in the end, must yield to the muteness 
of the pen when applied to the visual arts. 

Two series of events early in Adams' life stand out as significant land 
marks in the development of his aesthetic predilections. Chronologically, the 
first of the two was his chance meeting with Paul Strand in Taos, New Mexico, 
in 1930. Strand had at the time only negatives to show Adams and, as he held 
each one up to the light of a window, a dramatic transformation took place in 
Adams' understanding of the medium. He felt he understood for the first time 
the poetic strength and structural power potential to the photographic medium. 
Up to that point, Adams felt that he had been "mostly adrift with my own spirit, 
curiosity, and vision." This revelation was of sufficient intensity to inspire 
Adams to give up a growing career in music and to devote his life to photography. 
(He had for many years trained as a concert pianist.) 

For Adams, a commitment to photography encompassed the whole of photography 
and all its possible communicable aspects: commercial, documentary, political, 
and most important, aesthetic. This experience also revealed to him for the 
first time the relevance, spirit, and intent of the work of his friend and 


peer, Edward Weston. Prior to his meeting with Strand, Adams had become a 
friend of Weston's but had not liked his photographs; however, two years later, 
he, Weston, and several other photographers (Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham, 
Sonya Noskowiak, and Henry Swift) with similar aesthetic ideals founded Group f.64 
a visual manifesto of what they believed the straight photograph to be. In that 
same year, Adams had his first important one-man exhibition at the M. H. deYoung 
Memorial Museum in San Francisco. 

The second series of events which most affected Adams and his subsequent 
life as an artist took place between the years 1933 and 1936. In 1933, he made 
his first trip to New York and met Alfred Stieglitz with the purpose of showing 
Stieglitz his photographs. Stieglitz was supportive and encouraged Adams in 
the direction manifested in his photographs. In 1936, Stieglitz gave Adams 
a one-man exhibition at An American Place, making him the first young photog 
rapher to be shown at Stieglitz 1 gallery since Paul Strand in 1917. Following 
the opening of the exhibition, Adams wrote a letter to a friend which detailed 
the success of the show and the impact Stieglitz was having on his life. The 
following is an excerpt from that letter: "To describe what Stieglitz is and 
what he does is impossible. He has dedicated himself to an idea and he has 
worked like hell for forty years to put the idea over. And it seems to be 
going over now with all the inevitability of the tides. The Marin show at 
The Museum of Modern Art exceeds anything of its kind shown in America. The 
work O'Keeffe is doing now is remarkable. Stieglitz promised me a picture of 
New York that will send chills up and down your spine when you see it. And 
here is Mr. Adams suddenly handed the most important assignment of his short 


lifeto maintain photographic standards as one of the Stieglitz group. I was 
quite a little stuck-up over the obvious material success of the Chicago show 
but what has happened to me here has thoroughly deflated everything but a 
sense of humility and responsibility. Nobody has conceit when they are with 
Stieglitz. The essential honesty transcends everything. You are or you are 
not. The pattern-sequence seems to indicate that I am." Humility, a sense 
of responsibility, and a commitment to the art world are all important aspects 
of Ansel Adams' character, as is his immutable sense of humor reflected in 
his love for puns and limericks. 

As an artist, Adams gained an understanding and appreciation of the 
"equivalent" concept from his association with Stieglitz. Combined with his 
stylistic preference for the straight approach and his love for nature's 
grandeur, the "equivalent" aesthetic became for Adams an idea and mission 
uniquely his own which remains unrivaled today. Although his famous "Zone 
System" serves the science and technology of the medium, its primary purpose 
was one of providing a means for attaining the highest quality representation 
of the philosophical implications inherent in the straight approach and one's 
own personal vision. Equally important is Adams' attempt to make his photo 
graphs "equivalents" of his experiences, emotions, sensations, and thoughts. 
It is Adams' forging of the straight and equivalent photographic concepts into 
a unique style and philosophy of his own that has brought him the many admirers 
and honors he enjoys today. 

One of Adams' greatest supporters and technical collaborators, Edwin Land, 
has said better than any other just what this unique Adams aesthetic is: "Adams 
realized that even the most precisely representational photograph is so far 


removed from external reality that he was free to use such photography as a 
point of departure for his own kind of abstraction. That Adams has chosen 
what appears to be the most representational of media and subjects most 
prone to be represented, that he has chosen these to be the basis of his most 
abstract perceptions, is the first essential step in his genius. The challenge 
of making a non-sentimental statement about a grand insight into the abstract 
is multiplied a thousand-fold when the components of the subject have names 
and reminiscences to characterize themtree and twig, rock and boulder- 
components assembled furthermore not as accidents but in their natural habitats 
as ordinary 'beautiful' arrangements. The greater the photographic skill brought 
to bear, the more elegant the technology employed, the more serious the threat 
to the artist who would lead us step by step in his own direction. For, as 
compared with the forms in ordinary abstract art, the direct derivatives from 
reality are distractions of deadly power. 

"Thus the challenge which Adams undertook to meet was to show that these 
meticulously beautiful photographs, these instruments of distraction, could be 
directed by him towards unified new insights. He demonstrates that there is 
no greater aesthetic power than the conversion of the familiar into the 
unbelievably new." 

Aside from the inventors of the medium, there have been few photographers 
who have made greater or more lasting contributions to the field of photography 
than Ansel Adams. His books on the aesthetics and technology of photography 
(including those books of his own photographs) are basic to the literature of 
the medium. Since 1949, he has been a consultant to Polaroid Corporation, 
and he was a major force in the creation of the Photography Department at The 
Museum of Modern Art, the Photography Department of the San Francisco Art 

Institute, the Friends of Photography in Carmel, and the Center for Creative 
Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson. He has helped to establish 
major collections of his work and the work of others at major museums and 
recently, with his wife Virginia, established the Beaumont and Nancy Newhall 
Fellowship at The Museum of Modern Art. In a different vein, but still through 
his photography, Adams has been a major spokesman for the Sierra Club (Board 
Member 1934-71) and remains today an ardent conservationist; that is, an 
active advocate of the preservation and protection of the natural environment. 

Ansel Adams is perhaps the most well-known 20th century photographer 
throughout the Western world. In fact, his name is probably more familiar to 
a greater variety of people (and thereby a greater number) than any other 
visual artist, regardless of medium. This fame is not based on the murmurings 
of an elite art world and economy, but is the result of fifty years of pub 
lishing and exhibiting his photographs in those forums which allowed him to 
reach the broadest spectrum of society possible. 

If Stieglitz and his circle are considered the pioneers of photography 
in modern art, then Adams may be considered the master of those earlier horizons. 
His legacy to the art world will be the institutions he helped create, the 
technology he subdued, the photographers he inspired and, most importantly, 
what he terms his "affirmation of life"--his photographs. 

September 14, 1978 James L. Enyeart 


Center for Creative Photography 
University of Arizona, Tucson 


INTRODUCTION by Richard M. Leonard 

The life of Ansel Adams is happily condensed and exemplified in a photo 
by his close friend Cedric Wright. "Sermon on the Mount" shows Ansel with 
tripod and large view camera on the summit of Mount Whitney speaking with almost 
religious fervor to a large group of Sierra Club friends. He was telling of the 
gentle beauty of the "Range of Light," Muir's favorite subject. Ansel continued 
his love of the Sierra Nevada for more than sixty years , to a culmination in the 
[forthcoming] publication of his great scenic book Yosemite and the Range of Light. 

Ansel always was, and is, a very generous, outgoing person. Hundreds of 
his finest prints have been given, without charge, to "the cause" any 
publication that would help public appreciation of the beauty of nature. One 
time Ansel and my wife, Doris, were on photographic business in Yosemite. At 
Valley View, the great scenic vista of the valley, two little old ladies in 
tennis shoes approached Doris asking her to take their pictures with their 
camera. Doris suggested the kindly man with the handsome beard. They did, and 
Ansel calmly analyzed the controls of the box camera and took a truly beautiful 
picture of them. They never knew the fee they missed. 

For almost sixty years Ansel has been a member of the Sierra Club. It has 
been one of his greatest joys, and in later years one of immense frustration. 
He was of the old school, with views similar to the founders of the club and to 
Colby, LeConte, and Farquhar. He loved the knowledgeable negotiations for more 
park protection, based on facts as to the beauty and importance of the areas 
involved. It hurt him to see the leadership of the club pass for a while into 
bitter antagonism to the land protection agencies, "kicking their shins," as he 
called it, instead of supportive negotiation based on reason. 

He comments in his text that I called him "the conscience of the Sierra 
Club." That is true. Frank Kittredge, Regional Director of the National Park 
Service, told the board of directors of the club one time that "the administrator 
almost always has to make financial and political compromises. If the Sierra 
Club's position is not far to the 'white,' then the compromise may be a darker 
shade of gray." 

So at page 67 of my own oral history I stated in a discussion of the 
"purists" of the environmental movement that: 

"Ansel is so pure he tried for at least ten years to resign (from the 
club) before he finally accomplished the resignation after his (1971) 
heart attack. Every time he would want to resign, he knew me so well 
and seemed to respect my views that I was always able to talk him out 


of it. He would say that nobody paid any attention to him and his 
views. I would say, 'Yes,' quoting Kittredge again, 'but you don't 
know how much more closer to the black we would have voted if it 
hadn't been for you arguing for the absolute pure white position.' 
In those days the Sierra Club did compromise much more than it does 
today. Ansel was an absolute purist and still is." 

Upon Ansel's retirement in 1971 the board of directors, in appreciation of 
his thirty-seven years on the board and his exceptionally high quality contribu 
tions, unanimously elected him an honorary vice-president of the Sierra Club. 
Because of Ansel's objection to the new "shin-kicking" method of negotiations, 
Ansel refused the honor. In 1974 he was again unanimously elected honorary 
vice-president, and again refused the honor. 

Finally, in 1978 Ansel had "mellowed" a bit, and the Sierra Club had 
matured beyond the strident attitude of the past few years and had clearly 
accomplished an immense amount of environmental good. So Ansel graciously 
accepted the honor, a fitting rapprochement in the fine work of Ansel and the 
Sierra Club over so many years. 

Richard M. Leonard 

Honorary President, Sierra Club 

A July 1978 
Berkeley, California 



The interview with Ansel Adams was held in twenty-six sessions. The 
first twenty-four began 12 May 1972 and concluded 8 September of that year. 
Of them, the last five were devoted to Sierra Club affairs, although the club 
had been referred to and some aspects of it discussed in earlier sessions. 
The final two sessions in the series were held on 19 May 1974, and 23 February 
1975, and were concerned principally with events recent to those dates. 

All of the interviewing was done in Ansel Adams's home at Carmel 
Highlands, California. Most were held in the comfortable living room; the 
only exception was the darkroom tour described in the interview. All of the 
sessions were held in the late afternoons on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. 
Most lasted about two and a half hours. Mr. Adams, who had usually spent the 
day working in his darkroom, viewed the interview sessions as periods of 
relaxation. He preferred not to consider the subject matter in advance but 
to discuss spontaneously whatever was brought up. The result is this informal, 
wide-ranging, informative series of conversations. 

Mr. Adams's editing of the interview transcript, which was sent to him in 
sections, was done over a two-year period, in time fitted into a busy schedule. 
(He read one section while confined to bed with the flu, another on a trans- 
Atlantic plane.) He made brief additions, most in response to queries by the 
interviewers, and some corrections, but no extensive changes. 

The Regional Oral History Office is grateful to Mrs. Helen M. Land, whose 
generous contribution to the Friends of The Bancroft Library made the project 
possible, and to the Sierra Club for a contribution toward the part of the 
interview that deals specifically with the Sierra Club. In addition, thanks 
are due to Helen M. LeConte, long-time friend of Ansel and Virginia Adams and 
of the interviewer, for valuable assistance in the project. 

Ruth Teiser 
Catherine Harroun 

18 August 1978 

Regional Oral History Office 

486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California at Berkeley 

[Interview I 12 May 1972] 
[Begin Tape 1, Side 1] 

Education and the Creative Process 

Adams: My father [Charles Hitchcock Adams] was a very broad-minded man, 

and I guess he must have known that I was a bit of a nut, but he had 
faith, and they sent me to various schools. I didn't do at all well, 
so then I got into music and decided that was pretty good, and my 
father said, "Well now, if you want to you can go to the university, 
or study music, and if you do music all I'll ask you is to take some 
languages and sciences because they are useful." 

So I studied with several private people a little Greek, and 
my father taught me a little French. Had a miserable time with 
German didn't go anywhere with it. And so I was free to do pretty 
much what I wanted. All that he wanted was the satisfaction that I 
was getting somewhere. 

It would have been extremely difficult today to have done that 
because of your school regulations and the conventions of education. 
This tends to worry me a little bit, because I know our own children 
just had to go to the grammar school and the high school, and a lot 
of things seemed to be a great waste of time. My son [Michael Adams] 
-had a compelling interest in flying. It was later on that he 
decided to become a doctor. But I just can't help thinking of the 

Now, Russell Varian (he's dead now, but he was the head of the 
Varian Associates, he and his brother) and I understood that even in 
high school he couldn't read. He could read silently, and he could 
write pretty well, but if you asked him to read this, he couldn't 
read it out loud. So of course he was considered a prime nut, but he 
was a genius in mathematics and physics, and on the basis of that he 
got into Stanford. 

That's impossible today, because he didn't have any of the 

Adams : 

Then his brother, Sigurd, was a very fine engineer. You don't 
realize that they were one of the dominant powers, forces, in 
the development of radar. And here's a guy who couldn't read 
out loud in high school! [Laughter] 

So the creative process is something that is inevitable. 
You can't control it. You can't stop it. There's nothing you 
can do with it. You can wreck it, I suppose, but if a person 
was really creative, I don't think he would get into drugs and 
things. I think the impulse is there and it's strong. 

I guess I'd say that with me the impulse must have been 
there, but certainly the family support had a great deal to do 
with it. 

Family Background and Childhood 

Adams : 

Teiser : 
Adams : 

My Adams family came from New England, and my grandmother* 
spent the last decade of her life trying to relate us to the 
presidential family, but it doesn't work. [Laughter] They are 
very distantly related, but nothing that you'd say would be 

Were there creative people in your family? 

Well, Henry Adams was closer. I don't know just what the 
relationship was, but that's almost to the point where any 
quality that they had would be so distributed in the genes that 
you couldn't count on it after so many generations of diffusion. 
My grandmother's family was from Thomaston, Maine. That was the 
Hills family, who, it seems, are related to the Hills coffee 
people. She found that out. She could trace the ancestry back 
to England, to Lord Rosse**, the astronomer. And that's all we 
can tell on that side. 

On the other side, the Bray family [to Mrs. Adams] there's 
not much known about the Bray family, is there, other than they 
came from Baltimore? 

Mrs. Virginia 

Best Adams: Well, they had Oliver Cromwell as a relative. 

Adams : 

They had? 

*Cassandra Hills Adams, wife of William James Adams. 
**William Parsons, Third Earl of Rosse. 

V. Adams: 

Adams : 
Adams : 
Adams : 

Adams : 

Yes. Auntie "Crumell" they called her; she belonged to the Cromwell 
family.* I don't know whether that's an honor or not. 

I didn't realize that. So that would be several generations remote. 
That was your mother's family? 
That was my mother's family.** 
How did her parents get to Nevada? 

Well, they both in '56 came across the plains and went to Sacramento 
a business then moved to Carson City, and they lived in Nevada. My 
mother was born in Iowa, though, on the way over. My father's 
father came west one or two times started a business and then went 
back again and married and came back by ship. I guess he always 
came by ship. But the Brays came across in a covered wagon. 

So then my grandfather [William James Adams] got in the lumber 
business and several things. If all had gone well I might have been 
a real playboy, but it didn't. He was at one time supposed to be the 
wealthiest lumber man on the coast, and there was a series of 
disasters, a couple of crashes, and he lost twenty-seven ships by 
fire and shipwreck lumber ships in twelve or fifteen years. Just 
disaster after disaster. Several mills burned, and in those days 
the insurance cost almost as much as what was insured, so if anything 
happened, that was just a dead loss. But of course, the accounting 
in those days you just had money in the bank, and if a ship was 
destroyed, you just took the money out and built another one. I mean 
there was no such thing as cost accounting or if they took in a 
great deal of money, they just took in a great deal of money, that 
was all. There were no taxes. It was so simple compared to today. 
And offices for these big plants had none of the present style I 
remember as a kid there 'd be a great big shed, you know, and all the 
steel work of a lumber mill, and the office would be about as big as 
this alcove, a kind of mezzanine supported with rods from the 
ceiling, and a staircase. And then there were a couple of ladies, 
maybe somebody with an old-fasioned typewriter, and a couple would 
be writing in books, and that was the office. 

For the lumber mill? 

The whole business went through just this little office, 
a couple of office boys, and paymasters, you see. 

Oh, maybe 

*She was a great aunt of Ansel Adams. 
**Ansel Adams's mother was born Olive Bray. 

Adams: I know years ago my father was secretary of the Merchants Exchange 
[in San Francisco], and they controlled the Merchants Exchange 
Building. Every Friday it was payday for the men, and my father 
would take the voucher to the treasurer to be approved, and then 
go to the bank and get the money greenback money which was put in 
little envelopes. And each man had his name on it and the amount 
due him. There was no withholding, nothing, just the amount. Then 
they'd line up, the janitor, the engineers, and I used to help my 
father sometimes. You had to say the names: "Mendota," and Joe 
Mendota gets his envelope. Compared to today, you know, it's 
amazing that business was that way. But that's getting a little bit 
away from your mission. 

I remember the whole family. My uncle [William L. Adams] was a 
very fine doctor, and he died when I was about ten or twelve, I 
think, of diabetes. That was before insulin. And he was a very 
prominent doctor, what they called a diagnostician, and a diagnostician 
in those days was the equivalent of an internist, an internal medicine 
man, today. But I think in the last fifteen, maybe twenty years of 
his practice, he saw patients only referred to him by other doctors, 
whereas now the internist refers to specialists. All the other 
general men around would say, "Well, better go see Dr. Adams on that." 
He was the "diagnostic expert." 

Teiser: Were you friendly with him? 

Adams: He was a very nice man. He was a good student of French, translated 
French poetry. His first wife was a nurse whom he met studying 
medicine in Paris. She converted him to Catholicism, and he 
succeeded in converting half the family. So half of us are heathens, 
and the other half are Catholics. [Laughter] I think we're supposed 
to be Episcopalians for the record. 

Teiser: Did people read to you before you, yourself, read? 

Adams: Yes, my father would very patient. I read very early, though. I 
could read at a very early age. 

Teiser: Teach yourself? 

Adams: Oh, I guess so; just read, you know. I had a phenomenal memory. At 
the age of twelve I could look at a page and recite it. In fact, 
even when I was first studying music I could take a thing to bed and 
read it at night and play it the next morning. I could see the notes. 
That facility left me at about sixteen, seventeen. I lost that. Now 
I have one of the world's worst memories. But that's all right. It's 
perfectly natural that you lose that kind of memory because so many 
other things come into the mind. I think that the reason I have a bad 
memory now is that there isn't any room. I've got so many things 

Adams: going on and thinking about, that I meet somebody and I hear the name 
and I forget it. I forget how to spell it. And then it's very 
embarrassing, because I remember the face. I can't remember the years 
the pictures* were taken in, but I can remember the situation of 
taking them. I can go right back, and in most cases I can see the 
camera, the lens. I can tell you the exposures. I can remember that 
phase very clearly, and a great many things way back to the middle of 
the 1920s. I can pretty much point to the camera, the lens. I can 
remember I did this with the second Zeiss Protar I had. I remember 
that this was a very wide-angle lens with the smallest stop, which was 
actually f/56, and you know, I can remember these things. But as for 
the dates, I can't remember those at all, and that drives my friend 
Beaumont Newhall, the historian, out of his mind because some of my 
pictures appear with three or four different dates on the back, so I 
use the word "circa" now. So it will be "circa early twentieth 
century." [Laughter] 

Another very important thing was the location. When I was one 
year old we moved out to the new house in San Francisco because my 
father wanted to be in the country. It was right in the middle of 
the sand dunes near the ocean, and an old house a block or so away 
from us was the nearest house. I can remember just a little kid I'd 
sit at the window and watch my father in the carriage (they had a man 
at the end of the line at First Avenue) he'd come out on the street 
car to First Avenue, and there were two carriages that ran up and down 
Lake Street. And you'd have to wait maybe fifteen, twenty minutes, 
get in the carriages, and we'd see Papa and the horse clumping out 
Lake Street and he would get off at Twenty-fourth Avenue and walk 
down on a board walk through the sand to the house. I've got all 
those memories the wild country and the beautiful flowers and Lobos 
Creek, and the fog horns, and Bakers Beach right down below. You know, 
you had a feeling of very close contact with nature. 

And a very interesting thing, when they started developing the 
area, there was a man named S. [Stephen] A. Born, a contractor, who 
built the houses now in Westclay Park. He did some of Seacliff, but 
Westclay Park was his area. And he was a very fine builder, I mean 
he always put more wood in than was needed. Some of those houses are 
just as sturdy as a rock. I know a friend of mine has a house that 
he built in 1918, 1916 I guess, and that house is absolutely solid. 
You know its timbers wonderful construction! But he used to let me 
go over to the work room and shed and draw plans, and the architect 
and draftsmen were very kind and would show me how to draw, you know, 
building plans what an elevation was, and space problems. I still 
remember all that very clearly. I could have been an architect. 

*Ansel Adams's photographs. 

Teiser: How old were you when you were interested in this? 

Adams: Ten, eight or ten. So I learned a great deal of that. And that 
helped precision of thinking. Now, this is all very important, 
because that gave me a certain precision. Well, you draw a straight 
line and measure it, you see. Even showed me how they form a drawing, 
leave spaces for the rug, how to figure all the different dimensions, 
and how to draw an arch. You know, I just learned the guy loved to 
teach me these things, and he'd give me a T-square and a little desk, 
and I'd sit over there in the corner and work. 

He said once that I had a couple of good ideas and he was going 
to use them. I don't know what they were. 

Studying the Piano 

Adams: Well, the next thing as far as precision goes, the training in 

music, which was with an elderly maiden lady, Miss Marie Butler, who 
was a long-time associate with the New England Conservatory of Music. 
She came from a Unitarian family from Boston, very precise and 
extremely accurate, and had the patience of Job because I was really 
pretty scatterbrained. She told my father that I had talent, it was 
obvious, but I never was going to get anywhere unless I had discipline, 
and the discipline might take anywhere from six months to five years. 
Was he willing to stick it out? I mean she was perfectly frank. She 
said, "He's extremely scatterbrained. He looks out the window. He 
thinks of something else." My father said, "Keep at him," so I had 
her for years. 

It finally got to the point when I would do, say, a Bach 
Invention, it'd have to be note perfect. I mean it, there was no 
compromise, and if I didn't, "Bring it back next Friday." I mean no 
soft decision. I'd get so damn sick of that thing that I'd just go 
out of my mind. But I finally, by feeling obligated, I just did it. 
So, I would do it. Fine. I would go to something else, and on, and 
on. Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann. And this perfection, and the quality 
of tone which I learned from her and, of course, my finger technique 
my hands weren't heavy, so it was impact, you know: lift, strike and 
relax. The idea is you strike a key but you relax immediately and 
slightly lift the key; that's part of the first exercise you do, to 
get that dynamic thing, and then the release. So that gave you a 
terrific tempo, you see, and very crisp sound and that built up, 
well, a dependency on accuracy. She wouldn't tolerate any sloppiness. 
I remember one day she said, "Well, now, I'm very happy about you, 
and you've gone as far as you can go with me, and I think you now 
should study with Professor [Frederick] Zech. (Old man then, seventy- 
eight.) And he had studied with and assisted Von Bulow. 

Adams: And he was a real Germanic you know, incredible, I'll never forget-- 
he'd demonstrate technical passages, the only thing he'd ever demon 
strate with me. And he said, "Well, you're a little weak on your 
double fourths and thirds and sixths." He said, "You must play sixths 
like this." And here was this chromatic cascade of double sixths, you 
see. [Laughter] I'll never forget hearing this, but it was a totally 
impossible thing. But I did it, I got it! But never any one of the 
teachers played for me just the plain music, on an imitative basis. 
It was all done by encouraging that you ask yourself, "Did this sound 
right?" or, "Do you think you really shaped that phrase?" You know, 
this dialectic thing. 

After Zech I went for six weeks to a woman called Elizabeth 
Simpson in Berkeley, who was one of those most satisfactory teachers 
as far as the facility of her class was concerned, and she taught 
with two pianos, which is I think the most deadly thing you can do, 
because all of her class sounded just like her; no individuality. 
Now, my father was pretty sensitive, because I came back after a 
couple of lessons, and I was playing Schubert, and he came over and 
he said, "What's happened, it doesn't sound like you?" And I said, 
"What do you mean it doesn't sound like me?" He said, "Well, the 
style is not you. You know, I've been listening to you now for quite 
a few years." And it occurred to me, well, my gosh, she was "showing" 
me. She was playing a phrase leading me on and I went a few more 
weeks and went to a recital, and it all became perfectly clear that 
it was parroting. And she just simply taught that way. She had 
immense success. They all played exceedingly well, but they all 
sounded just like she did. (Do cats bother you? Because this one is 
very friendly.) 

Well, then I went to Ben [Benjamin S.] Moore who was an organist- 
pianist, and he was a very great influence on my life because he was 
also a philosopher and gave the music another dimension. He was also 
a purist. And that was the end of my musical training. I worked 
with him for years five or six years, I guess. 

Beginning in Photography 

Adams: Then gradually I got off into photography, and pretty soon I'm in 
photography professionally! 

But the important thing is that these precisions were un 
obtainable in the photographic world. There was no school of 
photography, nothing but going out and apprenticing yourself to 
someone who did photof inishing, which I did for a couple of summers, 
You know, you learned how to "soup a print," as they called it and, 

Adams: oh, terrible stuff but there was no school relationship, no 

academic contact or anything, and there were just two or three very 
good photographers who were terribly jealous. [William E. ] 
Dassonville was very kind to me. He made photographic papers, and 
he helped me a great deal. The other photographers were nice enough, 
but, gee, they just hated to give away secrets, you know as if there 
were secrets in simple technology! 

I remember Moulin*, the old man. He had a big factory I'm sure 
you know of it in San Francisco. A big place. He called me up once 
and he said, "Mr. Adams, I know we photographers don't like to give 
away our secrets because it's all we've got. I don't know how you 
feel about it, but I've got to ask a question. Something I just 
don't know, and it bothers me." I said, "Well, Mr. Moulin, I have 
no secrets, but I'm not an encyclopedia." He said, "What does 
potassium bromide do in the developer?" 

Now, that is like asking, "What does salt do in soup?" or "What 
does yeast do in bread?" It is one of the fundamentals, a restrainer, 
and it's been around for nearly a century, and it simply keeps the 
developer grains from developing themselves where they have not been 
exposed to light, so it prevents fog, and most developers are active 
enough to always develop a certain amount of grains that have not 
been affected by light, and then you get this fog. You see, if it 
has a little restrainer, which is bromide, it puts bromide back into 
the halide crystals, and this "clears the whites." But here is this 
man who was the biggest photographer in the city, and had the biggest 
business and the biggest staff, and nobody on his staff or he knew 
what potassium bromide did. 

But of course if I really had to tell you what potassium bromide 
did and describe the chemical structure, the reaction, that would be 
far beyond me from the point of view of a chemist. This is a very 
complicated physical chemistry step. But for all intents and purposes, 
you know what it does when you add it to the developer. You add 
seasoning to food and you don't chemically analyze seasoning; you ask 
for saffron or, you know, pepper or something, but you don't give the 
chemical analysis of it. But at that time, you see, we weren't getting 
information from anybody. Everybody either didn't know or wouldn't 

Teiser: This would have been when? 
Adams: The twenties. 

*Gabriel Moulin, founder of a major San Francisco photography studio. 

Teiser: I see. That late. 

Adams: The end of the twenties. And the Moulin episode came in the thirties. 
At that time there were only a few there was Ann Brigman, there was 
Imogen Cunningham, there was Dorothea Lange, Consuelo Kanaga, William 
Dassonville. As far as I know, they were the only photographers in 
the area who had any creativity. (Well, I was on that side of the 
fence.) And Dassonville did portraits, pretty good ones, although 
to the "trade;" it was soft-focus, and on soft papers. Imogen was 
doing portraits. I guess she was the best; she had the greatest 
variety of approach. Dorothea Lange was doing portraits and some 
Indian work, not very good. Didn't have any technique. Consuelo 
Kanaga was a delightful woman and imaginative artist, but again, no 
technique. They were trying to say something in a language you can't 

So then when I first started in serious photography that's 
1930 it was people like Willard Van Dyke and Edward Weston that 
came on the scene. Of course, they found that here we had all these 
damn camera club people with hideous taste, imitative stuff, soupy 
sentimental business. A lot of them had a very fine mechanical 
technique, which was always very irritating to me. [Laughter] They 
knew a lot about it, you know, but what they did was terrible 
aesthetically. And that led into Group f/64, and this is probably 
another chapter entirely. I'm going way ahead. 

Youthful Experiences 

Adams: I'd say that my first experience in nature was a regional 

experience; of Bakers Beach and that whole western part of the City, 
which profoundly influenced me; the storms and the fogs and all this 
open space. Why I didn't get killed a hundred times on those 
Golden Gate cliffs I don't know. I used to go out to Land's End and 
climb all over without knowing how to climb, and all alone. I got 
into some tight situations. 

Teiser: Did you play alone a good deal of the time? 
Adams: Oh, yes, yes. 
Teiser: You did? 

Adams: Yes, I didn't have well, there were a few boys in the neighborhood. 
Nothing really happened that way. It was interesting; I didn't have 
any real friends. I just didn't need them. I don't know. 


Adams: But the other experience was then going to Puget Sound to my father's 
plant. It was after 1912 when he started the plant to recoup the 
family fortune, and we had this property on Puget Sound. He acquired 
the rights to the Classen process. Now, this is chemically interest 
ing, but today things have superseded it. It was a way of making 
industrially pure alcohol, ethyl alcohol, not methyl or wood alcohol 
but just industrially pure ethyl alcohol, 200 proof, from cellulose. 
They decided that that area was magnificent because of all the 
sawdust and the slash, and all the available wood material which the 
lumber mills would just love to get rid of, and they'd send the barges 
around all over the Sound and collect tons of this stuff, and then 
come back and go through this Classen chemical process which involved 
treatment by sulphurous acid, and they made we still have some 200 
proof alcohol. It's as pure as anything you'll ever get, and more 
potent, easily drinkable. The residue of that, the cellulose, was 
then mixed with molasses and a few other things (they didn't know 
about vitamins then, but "enrichments") and it was sold as cattle food. 
It was called Bastol, and that had a great future because it was 
relatively light in relation to energy, and it could be mixed with 
hay or grain. 

And what happened in this case was that industrial alcohol was 
at that time a by-product of the sugar industry (the sugar cane 
residue). And the Hawaiian sugar trust you can literally say that 
the group got together and decided that this company can't go on. 
And they bought out every share of stock they could get, and my 
father's brother-in-law* was bribed and he sold out and betrayed him. 
It was a terrible blow. My father's lawyer betrayed him. They sold 
their stock and got out of it, for a price. It was a terrible blow 
to Papa, and they got 54 percent control of the stock, threw everybody 
out, put in a dummy board, and wrecked the plant. 

Now, it was so important to them, they didn't even try to 
salvage some of this beautiful equipment the machinery was wrecked. 
Of course with the S.E.C. today and the rules we have, that couldn't 
happen. There's no possible way that you could do a thing like that. 
You could buy the stock, but you couldn't put it out of business, you 
see protection of other stockholders is important. Of course, a lot 
of people lost quite a little money in it, and my father was just 
ruined, and of course in a terrible state over this financial 
catastrophe, because he was always a person of the highest integrity. 
But when someone of his own family, whom I was named after...! That's 
why I don't use my middle name. Ansel Easton was unspeakable as far 
as I'm concerned, because I know what he did. My father in fact felt 
so much for him he named me after him, Ansel Easton, and unfortunately, 
I have to use that name legally, and I just hate it. But you notice I 
don't use it in any correspondence or in relation to my work. My 

*Ansel Easton; see paragraph following. 


Adams: professional name is Ansel Adams. But that was a family disruption 
and, of course, part of the family went with them, and the other 
part stayed with us. 

Teiser: How old were you when that happened, about? 

Adams: Oh, I guess I was about twelve or thirteen when it happened. 

Teiser: Were you upset by that? 

Adams: Well, I knew something had happened, because we went from a cook and 
a maid and a governess to doing it all yourself! [Laughter] You know 
what I mean quite down and out. Papa spent a lot of time after that 
trying to recoup his plant. And they had an antimony process, and 
inferior people in management. The Bank of California, which my 
grandfather helped found, had carried the loans and mortgages on the 
properties for years and years, and finally the law caught up with 
them and they said, "We have to call the loan." But it was with 
great regrets. I mean my father's word was like my grandfather's. 
He'd go in and say, "I need a thousand dollars." "Well, here it is." 
It was just this kind of an honorable thing. 

I haven't had to lately, but in the last twenty years fifteen 
I had to go to the Wells Fargo or the Bank of California and borrow 
five thousand or so got a job coming up and they'd say, "Oh, yes, 
sure, Mr. Adams, we don't need any collateral with you." And, you 
know, you think, "Well, that ain't bad," [laughter] to have that 
reputation. Of course, legally, they have to show something 

Yes, I think it did have an effect on all of us, and I think it 
probably was something that stirred me to think realistically when I 
first went to the Sierra with my family in 1916, when I was fourteen 
years old. I think my mother reacted very badly to this catastrophe, 
and I think that tension probably encouraged me to go more into the 

So, as I said I went early to Puget Sound, and then we went down 
to the Santa Cruz mountains, and then my father became secretary to 
the Astronomical Society [of the Pacific], and we used to go down to 
Mount Hamilton often. I never went East until 1933. Oh, yes, we did 
make a trip to Los Angeles when I was about nine or ten, and we 
stayed at the Alexandria Hotel, and I remember going around and 
seeing oranges and snow peaks and ostriches, and I can remember this 
brilliant, clear airl Still can recall it! Something like Santa Fe, 
New Mexico, has today. Certain moods in areas. I still remember 
that well in Los Angeles; we were there about six weeks. 

Harroun: That was about 1910? 


Adams: That was 1910 or '12, yes. We went on the streetcars the Pacific 
Electric Railway. But absolutely clear, you know, I recall that 
whole feeling of clarity. It was like this place, really, as it is 
now. [Carmel Highlands] 

Teiser: Were you conscious as a youngster that things impressed you visually? 

Adams: Yes, very much so. (Do you want anything now to drink, soft, hard, 

Teiser: No, not a thing. 

Adams: You've met Jim Taylor? 

Teiser: No, we haven't. How do you do. 

Adams: I would have introduced you, but I was swallowing. 

Visualization and Music 

Teiser: You said you were aware that you had a particular visual sense? 

Adams: Yes, I think I always had. There comes a romantic period when you 
can visualize literary realities. Say you hear music, and you 
well, you're reminded of certain things. You see tangible images, 
and that's the basis of all these terrible titles some music has, 
like Moonlight Sonata. Whoever thought of moonlight rippling on 
the water? I never got that corny. The Moonlight Sonata was 
always a bad example, but you did get such things as the "Legendes" 
of Liszt, "St. Francis of Assisi Preaching to the Birds," and "St. 
Francis of Paulus Walking on the Waves." This is pictorial music. 
Well, at one age of life I'd get into that kind of direct pictorial- 
ism. I guess you'd call it "literary." But then it wasn't very 
much later about five years before my visual impression of music 
was quite abstract. I guess I got that mostly from Ben Moore and the 
music of Scriabin. But I'd remember everything I'd seen very clearly, 
and that's why the camera was so rewarding. I would capture what I 
saw, and the dissatisfaction that the image wasn't what I'd really 
"seen" was one of the things that kept me going. The average person 
just goes "click" and there's Grandma, and that's the satisfaction 
with the image. But in my case, the required image or the ideal 
image which we see and hear was not casually seen in the photograph; 
therefore I worked hard to get it. And when I got it, that was the 
beginning of my real photography, and the actual visualization, 
where you look into the world, you see a combination of shapes, and 
you see them in terms of the final picture. You don't see them 


Adams: "outside" any more. And then you've got to get your eye, your 
camera, and everything around you into that position which will 
support that visualization. It's all intuitive. It has to come 
very quickly. That means you have to practice. If I don't go out 
with the camera for quite a while, I find myself very, very clumsy. 
I've just lost physical contact with the camera. 

I have a little difficulty seeing and framing my images. Like, 
what would I do with you [Harroun] sitting there with your pencil 
and pad? I could go "click" and get a perfectly good record of you, 
which you would date on the back, and it would be very valuable. I 
think I have enough mechanics to get a good exposure, but that 
wouldn't be a picture. The picture would be the combination of all 
the relationships, the black line on your dress, and the black lines 
on the blanket [on the couch], and- the element of light, and the 
distractions of the environment to get rid of. If you can't get rid 
of it, use it. But it's all quite plain in the end! Thousands of 
things are going on at one time, and you can't be aware of all those 
things, and you can't add conventions to it, because if you did that 
you'd ruin it. 

It's just the way you practice the piano for years to get a 
facility in your fingers, tone control, shaping, dynamics, and when 
you play you can't think of all the elements; you just do it. One 
example, a friend said, "Well, you take the C Major Sonata of Weber 
and you take the last movement, the Perpetual Motion and the Rondo. 
You're playing four parts, sixteen hundred notes a minute." You have 
to have your harmonics, your dynamics (which is phrase shape), your 
rhythm or your accent, and then above all that, the pecular thing 
in music the style the intangibles. And you practice. You're a 
musician; you've spent ten years or twenty, and you play this thing. 
And if you tried to even put it in a computer (it is going through 
a mental computer) but there's no ordinary computer made that can 
handle what you're doing. 

Anticipation in Music and Photography 

Adams: I was talking about this just a little while ago. The mind is so 
far ahead of the computer except in some things, but in music, you 
see, we're anticipating. We have a whole new pattern of thinking, 
unconscious thought. You are anticipating things with appreciation 
of a tenth of a second's psycho-physical lag. And you're hearing 
harmonics, and the harmonics are developing in such a way that at 
a certain point you instinctively know you're ready for the next 
note. If you waited a tenth of a second until those harmonics had 
resolved, you'd be late. So, that's part of the structure that 

Adams: people don't think about. I mean, when you hear music, that's what 
you hear. You hear this tremendously complex thing which can be 
broken down into a few categories, but it's really beyond literary 
definition. You can make a record of it. Of course, you don't get 
everything, even the finest records are not complete, but they are 
very close to it. You can break those records down on oscilloscopes. 
I've seen violin records broken down, recorded and then re-recorded 
slow, cutting out, cutting down to one-hundredth the time, and then 
making oscillographs and measuring the harmonics. I was absolutely 
fascinated with the complexity. You finally get a pattern where 
this other note this thing which on the piano would be touch or 
on the violin which, I guess, would be intonation why one is 
beautiful and the other isn't, and yet they are the same notes, and 
everything superficially the same. 

And the same thing with the camera. I mean ten people can go to 
exactly the same scene and get ten totally different images, although 
they might have the cameras in the same position. Superficially the 
tree and the rock would be the same, but there's something else, you 
see. There's the way they felt it, visualized it, composed it, 
exposed it, developed it, and printed it. I guess I'm wandering a 
little bit. 

Teiser: No, no, this is just fine. Is there a parallel in the sequential 
character of music as you were just discussing it and the sequence 
of events in a photograph or is that stretching it? 

Adams: No, no. My work is fundamentally static. In other words, I see the 
scene, and the scene is changing at a very slow rate. I'm not 
talking about a spectacular wave coming in or clouds moving, but I 
mean the natural scene is there, and I can think about it and compose 
and move around and get this rock or tree right. You know, I have 
command of it. Now, you take somebody like [Henri] Car tier-Bresson 
(and I've done some of his kind of work, I know directly what it 
means). His things are in motion. And the average candid so-called 
photographer just gets people on the fly. But, there again is this 
anticipation, and this might interest you. I was teaching at the 
Art Center School. We were working with students (this was before 
the second [world] war), Signal Corps people, photographers. 

Gee, it was pretty hard. We didn't have much time with them, 
and they were in the army, but they were studying to use the Speed 
Graphic. Well, a very intelligent general, one of the few intelligent 
generals I've known, said, "I know you people are interested in the 
art phase, and that's why we want you to do this, because we can find 
all kinds of mechanical people who can give us the answers, but 
they're not the kind of answers that we want. We'd like to get these 
boys to see and to anticipate. Say you're out in combat, something 
is happening. You can't wait until something happens and then take a 
picture of it. It's happened so fast that you'll be late. 


Adams: So part of the training that went on for weeks I'd be upstairs 
looking around in the street for something, and suddenly see a 
streetcar, a block away, and I'd yell downstairs, "Let's go!" They'd 
all arrive with their camera cases and I'd say, "Catch the front of 
the streetcar in juxtaposition with that big power pole I must see 
a precise juxtaposition." Well, they opened the case, they got out 
the camera, they judged the distance (we had a lot of focus controls)- 
"That's a hundred feet." They'd taken the light value measurements 
and they knew the approximate exposure, and then they were ready. 

Now the point was, if you waited until you saw that car line up 
with the pole, then it'd be way over and beyond, because you have at 
least a tenth of a second lag. About a third of the students could 
hit it right on the nose, could anticipate the juxtaposition. Some 
of them would get nervous, you see, and more than anticipate, so 
they'd shoot too early. Then, well, after several weeks we'd have 
about 90 percent of them doing an exact job. Of course we wouldn't 
go back to the same subject, but they'd be more relaxed and see the 
problem more clearly as time went on. 

[End Tape 1, Side 1] 
[Begin Tape 1, Side 2] 

Adams: Well, to take this element of anticipation, which is essential, I 

think I explained that is inevitable in music, although people don't 
think of it in that sense, but in the event seeing that the event 
doesn't trigger itself, at the point of the event, but goes. through 
our ears, our "computer" recognition, motor impulse, and nerve and 
muscle. I still have a very high reaction, but as you get older it 
gets slower, and I still run I think a twelfth, and as high as a 
fifteenth of a second on light impulse. You know, you can have 
standard tests, and when the light flashes you react. Well, you'd be 
surprised; you think you are fast, but then you see the graph, and 
here's the light impulse and here's your response, and if you're 
tired the response shows more delay. 

Anyway, creative people like Cartier-Bresson use this anticipa 
tion factor in a highly creative sense, and he was able to get these 
marvelous compositions of people in motion. It wasn't only one 
person; there may be as many as five all functioning together. He 
has an uncanny sense gestalt patterns, perhaps. We don't know how 
to explain it, but in many, many of his pictures, four or five 
people will be seen in the ideal moment, and that's why the title of 
his book, The Decisive Moment is so apt, because it is that decisive 
moment. When he operated the shutter, his "computer" decided the 
decisive moment. The real decisive moment is when the shutter 
operated, which was at least a tenth of a second after he'd given 
the signal. So, he must have anticipated in the creative sense of 
the term. 


Adams: I can make a probe and hit this metal and in a millionth of a 
second I'll get a response from this dial, but that's a direct 
contact. But if this is moving, and it has to go through my 
mechanism, then operate the shutter, at the moment when I think 
that's right it'll be too late. So this is a terribly important thing, 
and I think in music it's essential, and I don't know in most 
photography well, different degree I'd say in everything. You 
anticipate light, you anticipate your position in relation to the 
object. You don't think it out, you feel it out. If I'm looking at 
you [Harroun] I would move in such a way that that string back of 
you would be out, I wouldn't see it. If I can't do it, then I have 
to use that string, so I see it another way. But I can't say to the 
camera, "Move over on a track six feet and go click." When we think 
of all the things photographed. .. 1 1 1 

Mariner Photographs of Mars 

Adams: I have a whole set of the new pictures of Mars taken on the last 

Mariner flight, and they are wonderful technological achievements. 
A good friend sent them to me. They're not really restricted, but 
it's unusual to have so many. And you see in them one of the great 
miracles of our time, scientifically speaking. The pictures have 
absolutely no aesthetic quality at all except what you read into 
them. Now if I were a painter, I could take some of the designs and 
spots and features and I could expand them, and I think if I could 
be there in space I could have made a better composition. But 
[laughter], one, I can't be there in space and, two, I'm a little too 
far away. And three, these don't come back as pictures, they come 
back as a series of bits, one to a hundred and twenty-eight numbers, 
and are recomposed in the computer. A picture is made, and it's 
only this big [gesture], as big as your thumb, and scanned with a 
television micro-scanner, and 

V. Adams: [In the background] Oh, don't let the cat out! 

Adams: every time the probes come across a change in density in this 

image, they give a different number. That relates to intensity and 
comes back to us as a continuous tape, and the computer is set up to 
receive and interpret the signal. 

Now, the scanner works two ways. It records in one direction 
the intensity of the image and, returning, it is sending data from 
a number of other scientific instruments. When it goes one way, it's 
giving the image information, and when it goes back it's giving other 
scientific data gain. Hundreds and thousands of lines are involved. 
When you see the picture it's really sharp, this big [gesture], but 


Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 

the image is only as big as my thumb to begin with. Well, that is 
not art. People like, oh, [Gyorgy] Kepes or [Laszlo] Moholy-Nagy or 
[Herbert] Bayer would say, "Ah, this begins art; this is the new art." 
Well, it's another reality you're confronted with, but it doesn't 
represent art in itself because you're not seeing and controlling it. 
The machine is doing it, and I don't know whether we can always 
control it! [To assistant, Ted Organ, holding framed photograph] That 
went all around the world, God knows where, and I took the tape off 
and it was perfectly beautiful. It has to be cleaned, though. 

Travelling exhibit? 

Mrs. [Estes] Kefauver. 
Embassies program? 


Remember Mrs. Kefauver, the Art in the 

That was part of her project. That's been out for years. And I 
opened one box today, a whole box, three hundred pounds of pictures 
and frames. 

How many photographs in all? 

Forty or fifty. I've got a showl I just unpacked one to look at it. 
Most beautifully packed stuff you ever saw. 

"Monolith, the Face of Half Dome" 

Adams: Well, anyway, back to anticipation! Now, what does the artist 

really do? I'd go into the mountains as a kid, and I had unbounded 
physical energy, which is something that I don't have now. Of 
course, nobody realizes when they've got it, you just look back and 
you wonder! You know, I could climb two peaks a day with a fifty- 
pound pack and still want to photograph in the evening. [Laughter] 

But I think the element of anticipation enters into this picture. 
Something tells you this is something you recognize, and you begin to 
see the picture visualize it and you make it. In the early days, 
in the early twenties when I was out in the Sierra with the LeConte* 
family (LeConte was a marvelous man, a very intelligent man, a really 
very important person in Sierra history), he made any number of 
photographs on five by seven plates but hardly any that contain this 

*Joseph N. LeConte 


Adams: particular quality. They're immensely valuable as records, and 

they're pleasant. You know, you look at them and they bring back 
scenes, but his mind wasn't in the creative direction at all. 

See, compare him with William Henry Jackson; he was about the 
same. He made thousands and thousands of pictures. Now, another 
man of the Jackson period 1870-1880 called T.H. O'Sullivan had 
another level of vision, and his pictures are always superb composi 
tions. While the Jacksons historically were tremendously important, 
O'Sullivan had that extra dimension of feeling. You sense it, you 
see it. This Half Dome picture* of mine [on wall] was my first really 
fine photograph. (I was ready to say, "Well, maybe I should have 
stopped and gone into the ready-made clothing business.") Because 
this was my first real visualization. I felt the monumental quality, 
I saw it intensely. I had two plates with me, I took one with the 
standard K2 filter, and I began to realize, why, I'm not creating 
anything of what I feel, because I know the shadow on the cliff is 
going to be like the sky; it's going to be gray. It will be an 
accurate picture of Half Dome, but it won't have that emotional 
quality I feel. I had a deep red filter and I used it on my last 
plate. And that's the interpretive result that's what I felt at the 

Literary Titles for Photographs 

Adams: And this might be the time to bring in the term "equivalent" that 
Alfred Stieglitz used, because he made the bridge between the 
pictorialists and the creative people. Very difficult I Even today, 
the so-called pictorialists have to title everything, you know: 
"Autumn Tranquility ," or "Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory," or "The 
Smile of Spring," and all this incredible [laughter] literary 
imitation. And Stieglitz said, "Of course, it's all right to say 
this is 'Fifth Avenue, Winter;' that's fact." Edward Weston would 
say, "Cyprus Number Twenty-three, Point Lobos." But when you begin 
to say, oh, "Time to be Home," [laughter] you know, that's an awful 

Well, anyway, Stieglitz tried to break way from that with the 
idea of saying, "When I see something I react to it and I state it, 
and that's the equivalent of what I felt. So, therefore I call my 
print 'equivalent,' and I give it you as a spectator, and you get it 
or you don't get it, you see, but there's nothing on the back of the 

*"Monolith, the Face of Half Dome," Yosemite Valley, 1927(7). See 
also p. 38 and other entries as indexed. 


Adams: print that tells you what you should get. I put no literary title." 
That was a very important thing, and I instinctively felt that way 
back in the twenties. I rarely if ever gave a title, a literary 
title. I'd give a definitive title like "Rocks, Bakers Beach" (if I 
had only put the date on it, Newhall would have been happy), "Golden 
Gate Park Number Sixteen," or "Red Slate Peak," and sometimes "Red 
Slate Peak, Evening," another might be "Red Slate Peak, Morning." 
But it was never a literary thing. This is terribly important, to 
avoid this I call it literary; maybe that isn't the right term. I 
think from the very beginning I was relatively free of that because 
after going through a certain stage I was in, in photography and 
music, I realized how shallow it was. 

Teiser: It not only is literary, or romantic, or whatever, but it also 

reflects what the picture is like. I mean, you don't find that kind 
of title on a picture that would be called "Rock and Sea." 

Adams: You're right there. 

Teiser: I don't know what I'm trying to say, but 

Adams: The person who would accept that philosophy of a title could not do 
a Weston-approach picture, you see. 

Teiser: That's what I'm trying to say. 

Adams: Yes. I remember one of the criticisms that got me really worried was 
James Huneker, the great music writer, critic for the Globe or New 
York Times or something, but boy, was he floridl Wowl And his dis 
cussions of Chopin's Sonatas and other works were memorably bad. 
Now, the sonata is usually in four movements, and in the B-flat minor 
Sonata of Chopin you have the "Marche Funebre," which is the Adagio, 
and in which he took the mode of the funeral march. Now, actually, 
it should be played with the utmost stylization, without thinking of 
a funeral cortege. It's been interpreted so that people always 
relate it to a funeral, but it's actually a theme, not a theme but a 
structure. Otherwise you have just a funeral march. 

The last movement is Presto Furioso, and is an awfully difficult 
thing, with terrific surges of sound. Huneker ruins it for millions 
of people by saying, "This is the night wind rushing over the graves." 
You see, it immediately cuts off a whole dimension because it's so 
trite. That's part of the philosophy that you have to contend with 
with me. I avoid this aspect of triteness, and if I ever slip, 
please, you know, take me up on it because I might make allusions 
sometimes that might give you that impression. But it's very easy to 
get emotional. 



Teiser: Somebody with an unpracticed eye would look at Julia Margaret 

Cameron's portrait of Tennyson, say, and then look at a turn-of-the- 
century pictorialist portrait and find them similar. What's the 

Adams: She was I don't know if we can say she was a dichotomy, but she 

exhibited a dichotomy in the sense that most of her pictures are the 
most sickly, stylized, posed, Burne- Jones compositions of wan, 
tubercular maidens in white drapes, and boy, are they sentimental I 
I mean, they're really Victorian! So that's part of Julia Margaret 
Cameron. And they're awfully good for their time. The next step, 
and the important thing, is when she got these great people to come 
to her country house. (This is the story we get.) She was 
apparently a very well-to-do woman, and had the equivalent of a salon, 
and the people who'd come to visit would be trapped and photographed I 
But what she did was so intense, and the magic in that is not just 
putting somebody up in an iron brace and holding them for fifty 
seconds (the poses were very long) , but developing an empathy or a 
sympathy between them. So when you see the picture of Carlisle, 
Herschel, or even Tennyson, there's something happening there that's 
far beyond the ordinary photographs of the time exposures of thirty 
seconds or more, with the head gripped by the support. Her photo 
graphs had motion, they moved, but that does not bother us. You 
are aware of their great intensity. 

Stieglitz did the same thing. He took portraits of [John] 
Marin, and he'd believe if a person would sit relaxed for a minute 
or more, something could come through that would never appear in a 
snapshot. That's only a slice of time. That's another thing that 
Cartier-Bresson did superbly: the anticipation of the body movements 
and facial expression. And you know most candid photographs are 
simply horrible, people speaking with their mouths twisted open or 
showing incomplete action, etc. You have to study the person, and 
you have to be speaking with him if you're doing a portrait of the 
speaker. You phrase his passage or sentence, and just as he's ended 
the phrase or sentence you may photograph because at that moment his 
face may have a moment of logical repose. 

And Cartier-Bresson, and, again, Gene [W. Eugene] Smith, and 
many other people in that field have that sense. The person-subject 
does come through. But the difference between Cameron and the average 
professional at the time was not that there was a romantic stage set 
involved. I think there was just a very intense personal relation 
ship. The subject and photographer knew each other, they were friends, 
and they knew what she was trying to do. There's no resistance, and 
there's no passivity in evidence. 


Adams: Minor White made a big contribution in discussing portraiture in 
the sense that it really was a stage play, a dramatic play. One 
character was the subject, another character was the photographer, a 
third was the camera. The interplay wasn't just between you and me, 
but it was between you, the camera, and me. And sometimes this was 
very vague for people to understand, but he did some very spectacular 
portraits on that philosophy. You're really getting the person to 
feel that they're part of the camera. That's what happens when 
you're doing what's called "first person photography," when they're 
looking into the lens. Most photographs you see, they're not looking 
at the lens, they're looking over there or at the photographer. It's 
all right to look here or there, but if there's slight indirectness 
the effect is disturbing. When I talk to you and look this way at 
your collar, why, it'd drive you nuts after a while. You'd think I 
was, you know, ashamed, or afraid, or weak. You see the difference? 
I don't know whether you can see my eyes, but now you're the camera, 
and I'm looking at you. Now I'm going to focus on the tree outside. 
Do you see what happens? The eyes diverge. 

Teiser: Yes. 

Adams: It's an extremely small point, but it's absolutely a dominant factor 
in portraiture because it can be so ugly and so unhappy to have a 
portrait of a person four feet from the camera whose eyes are focused 
on a hundred feet or infinity. I'm talking to you, and if I had my 
camera over here, these would all be crazy pictures, because it 
wouldn't be far enough away. If I had the camera over there [gesture], 
by accident I might get something, but of course, I wouldn't know. 
So that's why the camera itself, with its single-lens reflex design, 
or just the view-camera ground glass, the image (not the finder image) 
is so valid. That's what's so wonderful about the new Land camera 
[the SX70], the beautiful accuracy of the finder. You're seeing 
exactly what the lens sees. 

Teiser: This question of focus, is that a factor in the [Yousuf] Karsh 

Adams: Karsh is never very satisfactory when he has a first person. He has 

the ability to make everybody look alike, because he uses a very con- 
, sistent lighting without much regard for the person. I mean for mood. 
The lighting, mechanically, is superb. When he photographs a profile 
of somebody looking away from the camera he achieves very impressive 
results. But when he has people looking almost at you, then his 
portraits may go to pieces, because they're not looking at the lens, 
they're looking at him, or looking a little above, or to the side. 
The Hemingway picture and several others, the subjects are looking 
above his head. 

He has a habit he made a picture of me at a stockholders 
meeting at Polaroid several years ago, demonstrating a new big 


Adams: format that hasn't been developed yet. He was going to take a picture 
of me, and it was to be processed right there in the camera, and then 
it was to be put in the printing press. This was called Project India. 
It's a remarkable thing. It means that you will take a picture, wipe 
the developer residue off, put it on an offset press, and you print 
a hundred thousand copies. This because the print is a screen plate. 

I would have simply said, "All right, take the picture but we'll 
rehearse it if you want." He got so nervous we rehearsed it four or 
five times. He'd never used this process before, you know, and they 
had everything set: they gave him everything he needed. He'd come 
in a private jet from Ottawa. I was getting awfully tired, because 
I was supposed to be the subject and should look "bright." We had 
worked everything out and had everything gauged to a quarter of an 
inch. But when Karsh made the picture, he'd take the cable release 
and look at you, and then he would do this [lifting eyes], and so 
everybody sort of does this "lifting up." And it's a secret. 
Everybody in his photographs has almost the same "lifting" expression. 
I saw him do it with several people. He just sort of does that and 
you go along too. [Laughter] He just sort of transmits a lift. 

But of course, his lights are right here: they're blinding. 
They glare, you know. Whew! [Laughter] And then after he did this, 
here are these two thousand people out in front, and he's just white 
with fear. They process this thing and out comes this picture. 
"Well, that's pretty good, Karsh," Land says. "It's not your fault. 
I know Adams can look better than that. Can't we do it over again? 
Sure, the picture came out fine that way, but let's get a better one." 
By that time Karsh was just ready to be put down the Disposall, you 
know (and so was I). So finally we get the picture. "Well, that's 
pretty good." And he turns it over to his assistant who washes it 
off. He then puts it on this little press, and there's a print for 
everyone in the audience. [Laughter] Very nice offset print. But 
the sense of portraiture is that extraordinary moment of understanding 
people. And a good professional portraitist is pretty much of a 
psychologist. Are you a pompous businessman, are you a slightly timid 
housewife, are you a dowager, are you.... And I have failed many 
times with all these types! 

I remember doing a portrait of Mrs. [James] Rolph, the governor's 
wife, and I just expected to do her head, but, no, she had the 
inaugural gown on. Well, I didn't have a studio never had a studio 
in my life with equipment to handle that, because somebody standing 
against a simple wall in an inaugural gown is one of the silliest 
things you can imagine. The light was all wrong. She was very 
nervous, and she said, "I hope you know, I'm getting a little fleshy, 
and I hope you'll do a proper amount of retouching." And I said, 
"Good Lord, I never retouch anything." So, I made about ten pictures 
of her, and they were perfectly horrible. They were so God-awful, 


Adams: but I sent two proofs on. She thought one was simply lovely and 

wanted to get retouched prints. So I thought, oh hell, I'd send it 
to a retoucher and let somebody do it, and let them have it, because 
I was obligated to get them a picture, but I had to cut the thing 
down to kind of a panel. The inaugural gown, you know; I had to 
print the thing down. If you do a thing like that and if you have 
a studio and all kinds of lights, and you simulate a room or some 
thing, you might produce an "effect." But imagine somebody in an 
inaugural gown standing in front of this fireplace here, not in a 
plush San Francisco home it does not work! [Laughter] 


Teiser: Your portraits of people in the Japanese relocation camp at Manzanar 
have a great immediacy. 

Adams: Yes, and that's a very interesting thing. This doesn't belong in 
this section, but I'd better tell you about it. 

Dorothea Lange and the group*, at the time of the exodus, when 
they transported the Nisei to the camps (which was a really tragic 
time), made photographs. They had a very grim sociological picture 
of this event, which was a very grim event, no question about that. 
Then I came along at a much later date. I was up in Yosemite and 
was griping that I couldn't get anything to do in the army or navy, 
and I wasn't going to just be a sergeant photographer. At first I 
thought I'd have the darkroom for Steichen**, and then, well, they 
got somebody else. I was just too old to do this and just too 
young for something else, and I was really griping. 

But Ralph Merritt, who was a great man, was the newly-appointed 
director of Manzanar, and he came to see us in Yosemite. And I told 
him, "I've got to do something. After all, I'm feeling like not a 
traitor but I'm perfectly well, and I have a lot of ability along 
certain lines, and I can't get in any photographic thing to do in 
the defense picture. They don't want photographers." Brett Weston 
was an extremely competent photographer. They put him cleaning film, 
which is closer to photography than most photographers were. But if 
I were a young man trained as a photographer and had joined, I'd 
have been made a cook. 

*working under the War Relocation Authority. 

**Edward Steichen served as a captain in the navy during the war, 

in charge of combat photography. 


Adams: But these kids who'd graduated from high school, they had already 
enlisted in the Signal Corps, so they were already designated. 
Maybe they ended up as cooks, too, I don't know. But when I got to 
Manzanar oh, yes, let me go back. 

Merritt came to Yosemite and told me, "I've got a great project 
for you. Can't pay you a cent. I can put you up. I can get you 
gas mileage, and I can get you tires, but I can't pay you a cent of 
salary. This is something if you want to do it; we'll do everything 
we can." He said, "We think we have something at Manzanar (Hello, 
Ernst!* One moment, I'm on a tape!) we think we have something at 
Manzanar. We've been able to get these people in all their 
destitute, terrible condition to build a new life for themselves. 
A whole new culture. They're leaving here with a very good feeling 
about America. They know the exodus was a fundamental wrong, but 
they said, 'This is the situation make the best of it.' If you can 
photograph that, it's a very important part of the record." 

So I went down to Manzanar and photographed, oh, hundreds of 
people, and practically everyone was positive. They'd rejected the 
tragedy because they couldn't do anything about it. The next step 
was a positive one. And I had them smiling, and cheerful, and happy, 
And the photojournalists raked me up and down over the coals; you 
have no idea. "Why do you have these people smiling? That's all 
fake I They were oppressed, prisoners." And so I tried to explain 
what really happened. Because of this adversity, about which they 
could do nothing, they became a marvelous group of positive, forward- 
looking people. They were the lighting candles type, you know, and 
that's the way you see them. You look at this book** and you see 
many who are very pleasant, and very happy, and beautiful kids, and 
they really did a magnificent job of establishing a life out of 
chaos. And I think that's my most important job. Although, 
conventionally I should have shown them downtrodden and unhappy and 
dirty which was not true! 

Teiser: You wrote the text, too? 
Adams: Yes. 

Teiser: As I remember, the copy I saw was poorly reproduced because of 
wartime paper, and 

Adams: Oh, terribly. Tom Maloney, U.S. Camera, just thought this was one 

*Ernst Bacon, composer, who had just arrived to spend the weekend. 
**Born Free and Equal. New York: U.S. Camera, 1944. 


Adams: of the greatest ever. He was so glad to publish this, to 

recognize these people, and he thought American citizens would 
respond and it would sell. Only about 3 percent of the bookstores 
and news stands would carry it, because the Japanese were the 
"enemy." They never paid any attention to the philosophy. 

I must have had twenty, twenty-five letters. Some were very 
touching. One man wrote me. He said, "Well, I've lost three sons 
in this war, and you're glorifying our enemy." And I had to write 
back and say, "Those in my book are American citizens. They were 
born in this country, and their sons who were in the army would come 
to see them." But their hurt was so great that there was no 
reasonable solution to it. It was really quite a tragic experience 
for me. 

Adams : 

I should think. 

I think of what's going on in the South. This [George] Wallace 
business, and the fact that "if you're a nigger, you're a nigger 
forever," you know. And if he was a "Jap," whether or not he was 
born in America, he's still a "Jap." The subtle thing was that the 
old man that we had working for us for many years as family companion, 
gardener, and cook, Harry, was an Issei, was born in Japan. He was 
picked up on the second day of the war because he was a Japanese 
national, and we just got a telephone call from a friend, "Harry Oye 
has gone to intern camp." Well, that's expected during a war. He 
had asthma. The government treated him incredibly well. He went to 
hospital after hospital. He finally went to Missoula, which was the 

He had the best of food to eat. He was 

He would write us letters which would have 

best for his asthma, 
completely comfortable. 

the censor's stamp on it in red: everything is fine. He comes out 
to us after the war. He looks fine. He was really extremely well 
treated. He immediately applies for citizenship and gets it. 

So Harry Oye at the age of seventy- some thing becomes a United 
States citizen, treated ten times better than the United States 
citizens who were picked up by General DeWitt and moved into the 
relocation camps. And that's the story that I tried to tell! We 
followed the what do you call it Geneva compact, and prisoners of 
war were magnificently treated. And, when he told us about where 
he went and the doctors he had, and the care and he was a prisoner 
of war I [Laughter] The American citizen who just happened to have a 
Japanese grandfather, oh no. He was put right in the internment 
camp. And some places were very bad; well, not very bad, but dismal. 

Manzanar had a beautiful setting. I always tried to bring in 
the environment of the mountains. I knew a great many of the people 
would look up at the Sierra Nevada. It was a beautiful place. 
Merritt let them go out of the camp and collect rocks and helped 
them get shrubs and build a Japanese garden. Just absolutely 


Adams: beautiful. They had water running and flowers and shrines. I can 
still pick out some remnants; they're still there in the desert. 

Teiser: Did you ever show all those photographs? 

Adams: They were shown in the Museum of Modern Art and were very severely 

Teiser: At the time? 

Adams: Yes. People criticized the Museum and criticized me. It was a very 
difficult thing. And even some of my liberal friends said, "You 
made a mistake that time. You just got yourself in hot water." We 
were talking about it. They said, '"It's not the thing to do. Japan 
is the enemy and you shouldn't have done it." Nothing could be 
further from the truth. So I really think I can go on record as 
saying that from the social point of view that's the most important 
thing I've done or can do, as far as I know. I don't know what '11 
happen tomorrow. But it was a great experience. 

Early Days and Scientific Concepts 

Adams: Well, I'd like to go back to earlier days and people that I knew. 

I'll never forget the doctor for us out there, a little woman called 
Dr. [Ida B.] Cameron who lived on Twenty-fifth Avenue and practiced 
homeopathy. And she would come over and see me when I was laid up 
with a cold or something, and she'd have her little sugar pills 
containing one billionth of a gram of something. Of course to my 
uncle who was an allopath, this was like what's going on in Ireland 
with Protestants and Catholics. 

Homeopathy is "like cures like." Strangely enough they've 
found out lately that some of this theory may work. [Samuel] 
Hahnemann I believe was the man who developed it. But there were 
many, many family doctors who were homeopaths, and would give these 
tiny little sugar pills in a solution of alcohol with an incredibly 
small amount of a certain chemical. But you got over your colds. 
And they never would extend into anything serious, appendicitis, or 
surgery, or anything no kidding on that. They were really highly 
trained doctors with this specific philosophy. It bordered a little 
bit on the acceptance of acupuncture. Nobody could quite understand 
how it worked, but it's probably the conviction up here [in the head] 
that does it. But you still see the Hahnemann Hospital out by the 
Children's Hospital, and Hahnemann was the father of homeopathy. It 
was just a "school" of medicine. [To Ted Organ] (My friend, I know 
that you are busy with prints, but could you remind Jim that I am 


Adams: kind of dry and I'm becoming very eloquent, and this tape is very 
important. A little vodka, a little ice, and a lot of water.) 

Dr. Cameron had a great deal to do. She was the one we would 
count on, and she was a very intelligent woman. So I had right in 
the immediate neighborhood Miss Marie Butler, my piano teacher, and 
Dr. Cameron (I forget her first name, it will come to me). 

Then a family, Mr. and Mrs. Sattler, came next door and built a 
house and cut out our view. My father when he saw the plans said, 
"Can't you arrange this some way so you won't kill our view?" And, 
by gosh, they did: my father, who was very broke, got a bill for 
twelve thousand dollars. A demand. It was their court order because 
they were going to build. Now, there's a strange thing about the 
law. They were on a very steep hill. It would have cost twelve 
thousand dollars to build the retaining wall, and we didn't have 

My father went to a lawyer and he said, "What do I do?" He 
said, "How far is your house from the property line?" He said, 
"Fourteen feet." "Twelve feet is the limit. They have to hold up 
the property." That two feet saved us. [Laughter] So he told Mr. 
Sattler, "I'm sorry, I don't have the money and I was very worried, 
but I consulted my lawyer and the lawyer says you're beyond twelve 
feet." He said, "Well, I tried, but I'll hold it up. But," he said, 
"maybe we can get some dirt from your property." My father said, 
"Oh, yes." And we got along fine. So everything worked very well. 

Teiser: But it did cut off your view? 

Adams: Well, it cut off a good part of it, but still he moved back enough, 
you see, which is more than most people would do. 

The [Matthew A.] Littles built on finally in later years, and 
cut it all off. Their name was Sattler, and she was a Christian 
Science practitioner, and she tried to influence me in Christian 
Science. Really, you talk about missionary work I There was always 
something strange about it, because I was interested in astronomy 
(through my father) and science generally, and then to be told some 
thing totally unscientific was a surprise. I began to develop a 
resistance, and argue I remember this as my first experience of 
being confronted with a very smart, very good mind, but it was on a 
very difficult track for anyone like me to comprehend. But the 
words "science" and "Christian," and "there is no such thing as evil"- 
well, that was an offense to my kind of thinking in which two times 
two does make four. I can remember that we had poison oak. "Poison 
oak is a beautiful plant; it will not affect you." Well, I was 
tremendously and sadistically impressed one day when this woman came 
down with the worst case of poison oak I'd ever seen. And when I 
asked her about it, she just said, "Well, I just let evil triumph." 


Adams: This was an interesting little phase, one introduction to what I 
call reason and anti-reason. That was very important at the 
beginning, that I had something to talk about with these people. 

Then I met, later on, Orage, A.R. [Alfred Richard] Or age, who 
was a disciple of [Georges Ivanovich] Gurdjieff. Gurdjieff was a 
great mystical philosopher along with [Petr Dem'ianovich] Ouspensky. 
I don't know whether he was related to the Gestalt theory or not. 
And Orage was an extremely clever, smart man, and a good friend. 
But he was absolutely scientific, you see. There was nothing phony 
about him; except that sometimes he'd make some assumptions we'd have 
reason to discuss. 

The 1915 Fair 

Adams: And then another very rewarding thing that comes back to me: the 

1915 Fair [the Panama Pacific International Exposition]. My father 
was very unorthodox. He took me completely out of school and 
bought me a season ticket. I went practically every day to the Fair, 
and I went through practically every bit of it. They even let me 
demonstrate Dalton adding machines. 

They had I didn't realize it at the time one of the greatest, 
most significant shows of modern art, contemporary art, cubism and 
so on, in the Palace of Fine Arts. A phenomenal show. It's been 
written up lately. I do not think people realized what they had in 
San Francisco at that time. Here were all kinds of geometric 
structures, see, and I remember talking to a man, but I didn't 
realize who he was at the time but he was one of the great museum 
people in the East; I forget his name. But there were several 
people around, and I said, "I don't understand." I was kind of mild, 
you know. He said, "What is it that bothers you?" I said, "There 
are really no straight lines in nature." (A well-known sculptor had 
made a gutter-like figuration.) Several of the people standing 
there looked at me brat, you know, talking about straight lines in 
nature. Well, he could not give any answer to it . I'll never forget 
this awful ten minutes in which he said, "I can't answer you on that 
there are straight lines in nature, in some cases." "Yes, I know, 
there are some straight lines in crystals, and fracture planes, but 
99.9 percent of nature is a fluid thing, which isn't the least bit 
concerned with a straight line. There isn't a straight line on the 
body." Of course I was embarrassing him because of this audience. 

Well, I went over there about two weeks later and he was there, 
and he said, "My boy, you put me on a very bad spot, and I've been 
doing a lot of thinking. I think I could continue the argument, but 


Adams: thank you for putting me on that spot." I'll never forget that. 

"Because," he said, "you know, you did bring up something about the 
difference between nature and the intellect," and that the mind sees 
straight lines, like [Percival] Lowell and [Giovanni V.] Schiaperelli 
saw straight lines on Mars, the "canals," which was a visual phenomenon 
of disconnected points. 

But I can remember these things, and reacting very strongly to 
many of the paintings, and reacting very badly to the sculpture. The 
paintings were abstract; you could do what you wanted with them in 
your mind. But in sculpture you had a tangible thing, like a rock or 
a tree. I had a terrible time with some of the sculpture. 

Teiser: Have you looked at pictures of any of that art recently? 
Adams: Yes. I often recognize a lot of the things I saw. 
Teiser: Was there a good deal of Rodin there? 

Adams: Yes, but not in this show all this was avant-garde at that time, 

early Picassos oh, I can't remember the names. They'll come to me, 
but this was largely the Dadaist group, you see. 

Teiser: The sculpture of the Fair in general... 

Adams: Oh, the sculpture of the Fair was God-awful. Who was the man who 
did the firemen saving the child down near the cathedral in North 
Beach?* Oh, the Fair itself was just filled with the most God-awful, 
bad, romantic and arid sculpture imaginable. "End of the Trail," 
Stella boy, was that daringl That was this nude a terrible 
painting, but the most popular. But the avant-garde thought this 
was a very special show, one of the most significant shows ever put 
together in America. 

Teiser: The painting, however, what sort of painting was it? 
Adams: Oh, now you've got me on names again Picabia, Picasso 
Harroun: "Nude Descending Staircase"? 

Adams: Duchamp, yes, he was in that group, I am sure. That was my first 
exposure to the nonliteral contemporary art, and it made a great 

[End Tape 1, Side 2] 

*Haig Patigian. 


[While the recording tape reel was being changed, Mr. Adams mentioned 
his admiration for his house guest, the pianist Ernst Bacon.] 

[Begin Tape 2, Side 1] 

Adams: The only person who compared with Ernst Bacon who ever played here 
was Victor Babin of Vronsky and Babin, duo-pianists he just died, 
you know, two months ago old friends. Last time they were here and 
spent the weekend, we had some vodkas and reminisced and he played 
Scriabin and you never had such an experience! A beautiful pianist. 
I've been very fortunate in my friends. 

Now, let's see. Where was I? 
Teiser: You were telling about the 1915 Fair. 

Adams: The 1915 Fair. Well, I saw a great many things. The organ in the 
Festival Hall is the organ that is now in the auditorium in San 
Francisco. It was a very good one. They've improved it, but it had 
then great power. Being interested deeply in music, every noon I 
went to an organ recital. And then I had some friends who managed 
to let me play it a little. Then I studied organ after that. 

But a very interesting story. You've heard of Tom Mooney and 
the bombing?* Well, Rena Mooney was quite a fine musician. I met 
her at the time. She wanted me to be her pupil. She was very 
aggressive, but I didn't quite I didn't think she was my cup of tea, 
although I liked her personally. Tom Mooney worked for the Underwood 
Typewriter Company as a technician. They had, I guess, one of the 
greatest illusions of its time. The audience would look onto the 
stage. There would be old people writing with quills. It would 
gradually and beautifully fade into people with pens in their 
bookkeeping shop in London. And then the picture would gradually 
fade into 1890, 1900, ladies working old typewriters. And then it 
would gradually fade into a new place. Well, this illusion just 
fooled everybody. It was fantastic. He showed me how it was done 
one time. It was a great mirror system and revolving stage. Very 
advanced. And the lights would go down and the stage would move, and 
the next one would come in and this one would be illuminated and 
picked up in the mirrors. The mirror was the biggest glass I'd ever 

We were very good friends. And imagine the shock one morning, 
seeing in the paper that Thomas Mooney was accused of the bombing, 
the Preparedness Day bombing. And there was his picture. This was 
the guy I'd known during the Fair, and a very kind, gentle man. 

*The Preparedness Day parade bombing, 22 July 1916. 


Adams: Well, they were rather politically radical, but they didn't think 

I was old enough to understand this, so they didn't talk much. But 
this was a trauma. To suddenly see, for the first time in my life, 
a picture on the front page of the paper, of a guy that was accused 
of perpetrating that bomb outrage it was terrible a man that I'd 
had a close association with as a good friend in my rounds of the 
Fair. So that was my first brush with "reality." 

Teiser: Do you remember the photography that was around the Fair? 

Adams: The Camera Club show was so dreadful I looked at part of it and just 
left, and the photography of the Fair, the commercial photography, 
was, of course, competent but very bad all their guide books and 
things terrible stuff. The whole Fair was the most amazing thing. 

The Tower of Jewels was a geegaw, the biggest curio ever made. 
And yet there were some things that were absolutely beautiful. Of 
course the whole thing was a totally traditional plan. You had your 
Venetian towers, you had the Alhambra Spanish courts, and the 
architects really went all out. 

The most impressive thing (the most curious thing I guess I can 
think of) was that they had this great locomotive out on a pier, 
which would generate steam phsssh! running on, just rotating wheels. 
It would put up these tremendous clouds of steam on which colored 
lights would play, and then fireworks were released back of it. Well, 
the thing was a fantastic spectacle. I mean, Dufy never painted any 
thing like that! 

And then we knew [Bernard] Maybeck, and of course he did the 
Palace of Fine Arts, and when that was lit up at the time of the 
Fair, it was an extraordinary experience. A wonderful thing. At 
night it was a real fairyland (I mean if you want to use that corny 
term now). It was fantastic. And when they didn't take it down 
along with the other buildings, Maybeck was disturbed. He said, 
"This is not a permanent building I This is a fantasy I This is 
supposed to go!" Oh, it was a beautiful building. To let it stand 
after the Fair practically broke his heart, because in the cold 
light of day, with the city around it you know, it was a bit crazy. 
And then a few years ago some guy spent six million dollars repro 
ducing it! Maybeck has been rotating in his grave, I am sure. 

This is an interesting thing. I wrote a very strong letter to 
this man and never got an answer. I said, "You're spending six 
million dollars to perpetuate something which the architect was 
broken-hearted wasn't terminated at the end of the Fair. The Fair 
was a true Renaissance concept. Ninety percent of the Renaissance 
was not permanent. It was festivals, sets made, performances. What's 


Adams: come down from the Renaissance is mostly a lot of old monuments and 

great style, but retaining that structure wasn't in the spirit of the 
Renaissance. It was a very alive, transitory thing. I said, "If 
you'd just taken that money and turned it over for contemporary art 
and architecture, it would have been an infinitely greater balance." 
But it's a monument. That guy put six million dollars into 
duplicating that building. Can you imagine? It was originally built, 
very well done, with a steel frame. Then it was faced with fake 
travertine. I forget the name of the man who developed this, but he 
could imitate any kind of marble or travertine that you wanted by 
mixing clay, plaster, and color, and get the illusion like Mrs. 
Spencer* in Yosemite did a stylized fifteenth century glass window 
she made of parchment. And people knew it was a derivation from 
Sainte-Chapelle; that was her great theme when she was in Europe. 
They looked at it and they were astounded. It is a stained glass 
window, but it isn't like anything that's ever been done; it's all 
parchment. But when you look at it with the lights behind it, you 
can't believe that you're not looking at a perfectly gorgeous, 
luminous window. That goes up every Christmas, and comes down 
afterwards, and nobody wants to perpetuate it through the year. 

Religious Concepts and Cemeteries 

Teiser: Going back to your immediate surroundings when you were a youngster 
you were naming the people who influenced you, and people you had 
known. You took Greek lessons? 

Adams: I took Greek lessons from a Dr. Harriott, who I think was Canadian. 
He was a minister, a total fundamentalist. And he was a terribly 
good Greek teacher in the imitative sense. I mean he'd make you 
write, go all through your verbs and nouns. And his pronunciation 
was, of course, English. I don't think anyone knows how to pronounce 
the original Greek, but this was the accepted English pronunciation. 
I read a lot. I read Homer, the others, Pindar, etc., and I could 
read it, by gosh. But he said, "What do you do? What literature do 
you read?" He was a pompous man, very stuffy. His wife was a 
little white woman, scared to death of him. He had a bristling 
beard. He said, "What do you do? What is your favorite literature?" 
I said, "Well, I have to confess, poetry. I just love Shelley." 
"Oh heathen]" He said, "You should be concentrating on the word of 
God. Do you read the Bible?" "No, but we do have a family Bible." 
(We had the births and deaths on the front page.) 

*Jeanette Dyer (Mrs. Eldridge T.) Spencer. 


Adams: Well, by that time he was just ready to pop a cork, you know. And I 
said, "Well, you know, we're not a very religious family. We're 
scientists. My father's interested in science, and we can't believe 
this fundamental " "Oh," he said, "this is heresy'. The world 
began 4004 B.C. and," he said, "every God-fearing person must 
accept that. This is the truth." And I said, "I can't " Then, 
"Dr. Harriott, how did all these fossils get in the rocks? You know, 
four thousand years is not " "Oh," he said, "my dear misguided boy, 
God put them in there to tempt our faith." [Laughter] And from that 
time on, my whole concept of traditional fundamentalist religion 
held to a very low level. I actually heard that mythical "fact" 
stated with total conviction. And I can imagine an old man with a 
beard, with the kindest intention, running around in millions and 
billions of rocks and poking in fossils, to tempt the faith of some 
creature he invented in the very last varnish layer of the historic 
column. [Laughter] But that actually happened to me! These people 
are right around here today who would say the same thing. 

Oh, another problem I had was with a man who was a physicist, 
and he got talking about what church I belonged to, and I said, "I 
don't go to church." He said, "I don't understand it," and I said, 
"Well, are you a Catholic?" He said, "Oh, I'm a devout Baptist. I 
actually believe in the Bible." I said, "Look, you're a physicist 
and a mathematician, and you can't really believe certain things, 
can you?" I forget his exact words. (This came along later.) He 
said, "My dear boy, you don't understand. Faith is one thing, and 
knowledge is another." And you know that was a great shock that 
somebody could have all the knowledge in the world and yet have a 
faith that denied it. Those things are perhaps formative things in 
one's life. 

This is probably a good time to say that my very dear friend 
Dr. [Edwin H.] Land of Polaroid really, a great genius in science 
and technology today, and his heart is as big as his mind he was 
talking about problems, solutions, and human directions; we all have 
human and political problems. And he said, "The key to the whole 
thing is a clinical approach and ability in 'management 1 of any 
situation." In other words, if something happens, if something hits 
you, you should immediately become "clinical." Don't let your 
emotions take the control from you. Just analyze what's happening, 
and then when you figure out what's happening, then you may begin to 
manage it. You don't deny it, you don't condemn it, you just say, 
"Here's the situation, and one parameter is here and another there," 
and you solve it. The instant you become emotional, resentful, or 
over-respond you have lost. 

Jim Taylor: It's getting time for dinner. 

Adams: All right. Tell them to hold it. We're doing fine. 


Teiser: We'll stop whenever you like. 

Adams: Now, a very interesting thing that really goes back to the twenties. 
I'm not a victim of necrophilia or anything to do with death. 
Cemeteries have two qualities. One is human in the sense that one 
human being is putting up some kind of a stone which relates to 
another human being. In many cases on that stone are carvings, 
sentiments, indications, which is profoundly human and is, in a 
sense, folk art. So I've always had an interest in such things. 
I've got a tremendous collection of cemetery stone photographs. Dr. 
Land has said, "I see so many pictures of tombstones. You come here, 
I give you a new film to try, and you go to work in Laurel Hill 
Cemetery!" I say, "Yes, because the stones are static. Some of them 
are very beautiful and I can work thoughtfully on them." 

This is a theme that affected me and affects a great many 
photographers. The early gravestone carvings and sentiments are a 
link the closest link I know to the past. And you get that 
assurance in New England in the old graveyards; you really sense a 
contact with past humanity, and the stones photograph beautifully. 

I have one negative here that I've been working on for years. 
It was a little thing from Laurel Hill Cemetery. It's gone; it's 
part of Bay breakwater now. It's just a sphere, a little spirit, a 
little angel leaving, floating off. Probably when it was made it 
might have been corny, but it was beautiful with age and erosion. 
I'm going to make a print of that if it's the last thing I do, because 
it's one of the most beautiful, poignant images, and it relates so 
wonderfully to so many themes. Here is the earth, the symbol of the 
crescent, and the little spirit leaving it. 

So to make these junctions between expression, personal feeling, 
history, we can then send tentacles out to other people through art. 
The human interpretation of history is just not dates and facts but, 
as my friend Newhall says, "We historians don't think of the past or 
present, we think of a continuous line." And now a lot of people 
want to cut life into periods everyone tries to compartment ize it: 
contemporary art, new sculpture, pop art move in in all such 
compartments. Any good art historian goes around a great ellipse, 
you see, right back to the pre-Egyptians. And we just came across 
some pictures today of some Egyptian things in the Boston Museum. 
And you look at these pictures, and they have qualities which a lot 
of the contemporary artists are really trying to capture in the new 

So my interest in cemeteries is not anything to do with death, 
or even the fact that the art is "art." It's a kind of a folk art, 
but it has a tremendous human significance. It's just a theme which 
because I suppose it stays quiet [laughter] I like. So I have a very 


Adams: complete set of Laurel Hill Cemetery pictures in the late twenties 
and thirties. That little figure see the figure on the urn? that 
was the most beautiful gravestone there, and I went over and I 
talked to the guard one day and I said, "Where's that going?" And 
he said, "Oh, that's going down to the breakwater." I said, "I'd 
like that. Tell me how I can buy it, anything; I want it." He 
said, "Ahhh! Scram!!" But I went back the next morning and found 
it had been broken up, and I pinched just this little part, which I 
think remains a perfectly beautiful thing. 

Now the contemporary gravestone is a horrible thing. But these 
early ones were really carved. There's one stone in Utah, I think 
Glendale, that was done in 1890-something by an itinerant sculptor 
who went around the country when people were trying to carve 
primitive stones. This one could have been done in the middle 
thirties; it relates to contemporary sculpture. It's one of the 
most beautiful things I've ever seen. I just hope it hasn't been 
vandalized. I have several pictures of it. 

Teiser: Your photographs of the sculptures in Sutro Heights 
Adams: Yes, I've a series of those. 
Teiser: Are they 

Adams: Well, you see. The whole Sutro thing was a great colossus, a 
benign fake. This man [Adolph Sutro] was very wealthy, and he 
bought these things made of cast cemental imitations of classic 
sculpture. They still had their own nostalgic value. The one I 
have of a woman classically draped and looking down on Seal Rocks 
is still one of my best pictures. From the point of view of art, 
it's an atrocity, you know, but here again is the "nostalgia" thing 
(a bad use of the term) . What that meant in history was related to 
the concept of the benign ruin. Sutro really wanted to accomplish 
something, and could buy anything he wanted. Sutro Baths, you know, 
was his private indulgence. So with the idea that "classic" was 
the "in" thing at that time, he ringed this parapet with these 
statues. I remember them when they were complete. I wish to 
goodness that I had been able to photograph them all. They were 
of cast cement, and they didn't stand the salt air erosion, so 
they weathered within relatively few years and gradually went to 
pieces. But I have the torch bearer, a woman, and I had another 
one that was burned up in the fire in Yosemite (unfortunately it 
was the best one) . 


Aesthetics and Ecology 

Adams: All those things are so poignant because they meant so much 

emotionally to me, as I was at the time exploring several parameters 
of thinking and doing into society, into history, aesthetics, and 
nature. And the whole thing makes a complex, abundant, and eventful 
pattern. So it's awfully hard for me to point out any one thing, you 
see, and say, "This is important," because it's sure to tie in to 
something else. I often went down to Bakers Beach. A beautiful fog 
would be coming in, and great waves but you talk about pollution! 
The sewer for the whole Western Addition dumped off the beach, so 
you had to watch your step. Nobody ever thought anything about it. 
That didn't affect it any; the beach was still beautiful. I have a 
picture of my mother and father and me about this big [gesture] (I 
don't know who took it) sitting on the platform of the old lifesaving 
station at Bakers Beach, and you know, such an image brings you back 
to the particular qualities of the world as it was at the time when 
it meant so many things to you. 

If the beach was in that condition today it would be roped off 
and covered with warning signs! You wouldn't come within a quarter 
of a mile of it today. But I lived! I mean this is a very important 
thing. The average human society lives in a biological slum India, 
for instance, is a prime example and up until just recently, a half 
century ago, we really lived in filth. We had garbage all over. We 
didn't worry about anything. You'd go into the Sierra on a camping 
trip, and there were so few people you knew the water was clear, but 
even back in 1912, I think, William Colby got typhoid fever from 
some high mountain stream. 

In some ways we're so damned sterile today. Probably that's 
one of the things that's the matter with us [laughter], that we've 
achieved sterility and we're not conditioned. My son is a doctor, 
and if one of the children drops something on the floor they have to 
eat it. They should absorb germs, they should develop a resistance. 
What is there on the floor? You walk outside, well if there's an 
epidemic, if there was something here we'd take care of it in another 
way. So my whole experience at Bakers Beach all my life was that the 
sewer emptied into it, and literally the whole mile the whole coast 
there you had to watch your step, if you know what I mean. But it 
didn't make any difference. That was it. The situation what do 
you do? You manage it. You watch your step. 

Teiser: What you were saying of Dr. Land * 

*See p. 33. 


Adams: Yes, Dr. Land's incredible ability getting along with people, 

situations just don't react, except to art art and music. But you 
come across a situation with people, don't feel worried about it. 
Just say, "Now, what's this situation?" You'll usually find out it's 
something that can be solved. Maybe it can. Maybe it's a sour 
marriage over here, or somebody wants to put Mama in a retirement 
home over there, usually bothersome family things. Other things 
become emotional you get mad because someone's appointed a director 
of a museum, and you know he's a fake, and you think, why was he 
appointed? He had something to offer, and if he offers it and 
achieves it, it's all right. If he doesn't, they'll get somebody 
else. Don't worry. And clinical things. Although Dr. Land is 
concerned about the situation now (he thinks it's pretty bad), he is 
one of the few who could point to a way out of it. There are more 
than two hundred million of us, and about one million at the most 
are interested in conservation and ecology. We just talk to ourselves 
and we think we represent the whole world. We mismanage because we 
don't realize that the vast majority of the people the ghetto people, 
the farm people are not interested in "conservation" as we believe it 
to be. Their whole history of man is taking down wilderness and 
building farms. We must "manage," not just always oppose the world. 
That's one of the reasons I got out of the Sierra Club. I felt 
perfectly useless in the face of what I felt was irrational thinking. 

Teiser: Let's stop on "irrational thinking." 

Adams: Yes. [Laughing] Next time we'll really go into irrational thinking! 
[End Tape 2, Side 1] 

[Interview II 13 May 1972] 
[Begin Tape 2, Side 2] 

Photographic Equipment 

Teiser: When you took your first photographs, had you seen photographs that 
you wished you could take pictures like? 

Adams: No, no, I don't think so. I have to think. The family had an old 
Kodak Bullseye, 3 I/ A, 3 I/A; I used to take pictures down at the 
beach. They were just scenes, but there never was anything of con 
sequence. And then I went to Yosemite in 1916, and I had a No. 1 
Brownie and took pictures. Then I wanted to take some more pictures, 
so I got a choice between a pair of two-wheeled skates or a Vest 


Adams: Pocket Kodak, and I chose a Vest Pocket Kodak, which was probably a 

momentous decision. Then I got really interested, and my cousin gave 
me a 1A Speed Kodak, 2 1/4, 4 1/4. That was when Folmer & Schwing 
was still part of Kodak. They made this focal plane roll film 
camera, which was an exceedingly good one. There were several 
cameras made, but it is still a very superior instrument. I don't 
know what happened to that; I guess I turned it in. 

That gave me a larger image, you know, 2 1/4, 4 1/4, in relation 
to the Vest Pocket, and then I felt I really ought to do something 
good size, so I got myself an old four by five Corona view camera 
kind of a classic item. It was the cheapest and best camera of its 
kind then, having back swings and tilts on axis and a rising front. 
The one I had was in pretty bad condition. It sagged and had to be 
levelled up for almost every exposure, but I used it for a long time. 
Then I got for trips a 3 1/4, 4 1/4. (nine by twelve centimeters, 
actually). It was a Zeiss Mirroflex, which was a very good camera. 
And then I got a 6 1/2, 8 1/2 view camera. I used plates on that, 
although I did later have film holders. That's the one I did the 
early Half Dome picture* with. 

I graduated from that to an eight by ten Folmer view camera. 
Somewhere in there I had a Deardorff that I didn't like and got rid 
of it, and then I had a five by seven Linhof, early style, and in 
the early 1930s I got a Zeiss Contax, one of the few 35 mm cameras 
made at the time it still remains one of the best designed cameras, 
although there are others that are equal to it mechanically today. 
And then I sold the Folmer view camera and got Miss Louise Boyd's 
Kodak eight by ten camera, which was of aluminum, made on the same 
pattern as the wooden view camera. Silliest piece of engineering. 
I still have it, but it's just ridiculous to look at. But it worked 

And then I thought I really would go "contemporary," so I had 
several Zeiss Contaxes over the years. And I then got a Sinar, a 
five by seven camera with four by five reducing back. That was 
really a pretty good camera, but it's very heavy and it didn't have 
the tilts in the right place. The tilts are on base instead of on 
axis. The later system is so much quicker in adjustment. So I 
finally got rid of that and got the Area-Swiss, which I use now. 

In the meantime I received a camera from Hasselblad, the first 
camera they made called the 1600, which had a focal plane shutter at 
1/1600 of a second maximum speed, which never was over 1/800. They 
changed that model to a 1/1000 shutter design. Then they developed 
what they called the 500C with the Compur leaf shutters a far more 
dependable system. I've been sort of a consultant to them over the 

*See p. 18 and other entries indexed under "Monolith, the Face of 
Half Dome." 



Adams : 

Adams : 

years. I had almost everything that I could use I mean, an awful 
lot of stuff! And then, of course, Polaroid came along, and from 
the very beginning I've had Polaroid cameras, and have been a 
consultant to Polaroid. I had great interest in the cameras and 
materials and in the quality control of films. And then I think it's 
safe to say that I was rather instrumental in urging the four by five 
system into production; the system includes the adapter which holds 
the single film packet which is used with the view camera, and it 
enlarges the scope of the Polaroid process tremendously. While I'm 
no engineer, I just kept encouraging things to be developed. 

The year before last, the sale was sixteen million just on the 
four by five system, this four by five back and the film designed for 
it. Now they have quarter-of-a-million-dollar machines, three of 
them putting the backs together, and the whole system is going very 
well. It is getting an enormous amount of use in science, industry, 
microscopy, and creative work. I've had a pretty general experience 
with Polaroid! Then just a couple of days ago the new camera now 
a whole new system was announced. I must say it is fantastic! 

I forgot to mention some Graflexes; I've had several Graflexes 
over my life. I have a 3 1/4 by 4 1/4 and two 4 by 5s. 

Do you still use those? 

Not as much as I'd like, but I often use them with Polaroid, 
fairly valuable instruments. 


I forgot to mention that in there after the Mirroflex, and after 
the Linhof, the first Linhof, I had two Zeiss Juels. I still have 
them. They're very handsome cameras, but they don't have many 
adjustments. They're more of a folding camera with a revolving back 

Then I have also Louise Boyd's aero camera, the five by seven 
Fairchild camera that she used in her exploration of Greenland, which 
is a rather extraordinary outfit. She got some very interesting 
stuff with it. It's big and as heavy as sin, you know. 

How did you happen to have her camera? 

Oh, we've known her for a long time and she was disposing of her 
equipment. I sold quite a few things for her some very elaborate 
navigation instruments. These things went rather cheap. They were 
not worth much financially, but now they have historic value. And a 
set of optical glass filters that are hard to come by now. Grade A 
glass, about 1/2 inch thick. Absolutely flat plane. 

And then, let's see. What would be the next step? Hasselblad. 
I never owned a Rolleiflex. I've had several enlargers. Also the 
Polaroid MP-3 camera, an industrial camera. 


Teiser: What use do you make of that? 

Adams: Well, that's really a copy camera. It's on a stand, with lights, 
for copying other pictures or documents, or objects in the round. 
And you can use half-tone screens and get screened images on Type 61, 
all ready to go for lithography, having an offset plate go to 200-line 

I have the usual bunch of tripods and accessories, finders and 
lens shades and all that stuff filters, exposure meters, etc. You'd 
be surprised what you can collect in a lifetime of photography. My 
studio looks like a flea market. And, the trouble is few items have 
any real value, but you hate to give them up. I've got filters that 
don't fit any camera, but I just hate to let them go. They're 
perfectly good filters. 

Teiser: How much strobe equipment have you collected? 

Adams: I've done very little with artificial light. I've a ColorTran set, 
I've a Graflex Stroboflash IV, and I've used it, but I just don't 
like artificial light. Now these are the things that I should get 
rid of, but if you do that suddenly comes some situation where you 
need them. 

Like last year, I photographed something and couldn't do it 
outside, so I had to use my ColorTran (that's the new halogen lamps). 

And I had my cars, with the big platform I transferred from car 
to car, and I gave it to my former assistant as a wedding present to 
put on her big car. 

Photography and Technology 

Teiser: After you started making pictures with those first cameras, I assume 
the progression was in both your own skill and improved equipment. 

Adams: At the very beginning you're just taking images at the diary level, 

and I don't think you think at all about it. You see something there 
and you want to make a picture of it. Now just the preservation of 
what you see is one thing, but the excitement of making a picture 
at the lowest level of technique is still an important factor. 

The majority of people just work on that basis, and a lot of 
cameras are designed to be foolproof so anybody can get a reasonably 
bad picture. A lot of these cameras are automatic and you have no 
controls. Polaroid has been very generous in that way of thinking 
and has produced these automatic cameras with "lighter" and "darker" 
controls. You do have some selection of exposure value. 


Teiser: Do you remember at all your first consciousness of cause and effect, 
of the whole span of the system that you're so very technical about 

Adams: I think about my picture of Half Dome, made I think about 1923 or '26.* 
I got deeply interested after that and concentrated on visualization 
and technique. The techniques don't do you any good at all, unless 
you first visualize your picture. It isn't just exposure and 
development, looking at a meter and thinking, "I give so much 
exposure," etc. You have to "see" the image and must have enough 
technique to know what you're doing. A man called me up today from, 
I think, Ohio, and he wanted to know how to make a pinhole camera. 

Teiser: [Laughter] He had to phone you for that? 

Adams: Oh yes, and of course it was perfectly obvious from the beginning 
he didn't know the first thing about photography. He wanted to do 
color, eleven by fourteen color. Well, you have to tell him that 
when you use eleven by fourteen color with a pinhole camera, that's 
a problem! His exposure time would be something like two hours, and 
the reciprocity effect of the film would be so distorted, as well as 
the exposure values increased, that it would probably end up with a 
six-hour exposure with filters even more than that and results 
couldn't be guaranteed. Well, he hadn't thought of that, you know, 
and he had the funniest ideas about the kind of depth of field you'd 
get with a pinhole. If you knew the first thing about optics, you'd 
know that you don't get any depth of field, you get a transmission 
of pencils of light, from all parts of the subject through the 
pinhole, and it's a perfectly beautiful "correct" image, but of 
course it has chromatic aberration. As you extend your bellows, you 
see, your image gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and your exposure 
gets longer and longer and longer. 

So we had about fifteen minutes of talk on that. It was his 
nickel, but it was interesting to me to find out how little some 
people know about photography. He said, "How do you know what 
exposure to give?" I said, "Well, you have a sixty-fourth of an 
inch pinhole, and you have a ten-inch focus extension of the camera, 
and there you have f/640." "That small?" "I'm sorry, that's the 
two times two equals four principle." [Laughter] You see, here he 
was going ahead with his project and he couldn't find any data 
anywhere so he calls me up. I'm not an encyclopedia, and there's 
many things about pinhole photographs I don't understand, such things 
as diffraction and vignetting. But you see, you have to think of 
optical and chemical techniques. It's useful to understand complex 
ity up to a certain point, and then it does the job that's needed in 
photography in the ordinary sense. It's like an iceberg only one 
quarter above, and that's all a photographer really has to know. 
But the scientist has to know the three-quarters below in order to 

*"Monolith, the Face of Half Dome." 


Adams: design lenses and make emulsions and papers and evaluate scientific 
results. But we don't have to go that far. I don't have to know 
the basic theory of the latent image. I console myself by saying, 
"Nobody really knows much about it anyway!" but you should see some 
of the purely technical works on such subjects! 

Teiser: Were you reading technical papers all of the time? 

Adams: I couldn't say I was reading truly technical papers. I was reading 
books and papers on practical technique, and that's a distinction. 
Of course in my early period, 1920s and '30s, very few knew what they 
were doing. There were all kinds of contradictions and myths and 
hocus-pocus going on. They were doing some of the funniest things 
in photography you can imagine. And then the bad thing about 
photography literature is that errors have been perpetuated. I've 
been guilty of that myself, just assuming that because I see in 
somebody's book that I'm pretty sure is an authority, that a certain 
developer works a certain way, I repeat that, and then I'm called to 
account by an advanced technologist who says, "I'm sorry, but your 
statements are passe." Photography is complex and you cannot some 
times define the separate actions of materials and processes. For 
example, the temperature coefficient of Metol and Hydroquinone in 
combination is not the same when they're singly used. And so I have 
to correct that in the next edition of my book,* you see. So that's 
the way it goes. Actual technical papers are something entirely 
different; they relate to basic scientific investigation, and 95 
percent of that is beyond me. And I have no need for it. 

Teiser: Adolph Gasser said that your technical knowledge was quite profound 
and that you often lost him, but of course he's not precisely that 
kind of technical man either. 

Adams: Oh, no. He's a very fine mechanic, but he's not a photographer. 

I was at a scientific meeting, and a man from Kodak laboratories 
said, "In spite of all the complex papers, your books, The Negative 
and The Print,** give the only completely clear expression of the 
process that there is." I said, "Well, there must be " and he said, 
"No, there's just a lot of things that you're told to do but 
nobody's ever said why it works or how it works or what you can do 
to control it." I said, "Well, my work just touches the surface of 
technology." "Yes," he said, "but you test it far enough." You 
have to make tests and trials of materials in terms of practical 
photography. If you went any further than that, you'd be confusing 
the general photographer. 

*In the Basic Photo book series. 
**In the Basic Photo series. 

See below and index. 


Teiser: How did you ever happen to make the decision (if it was your 

decision) to devote so much of your time to writing that technical 
series? It must have taken time away from your photography. 

Adams: I guess it did. Looking back at it, I did far too much of it. It's 
a matter of getting mixed up with galleries and museums, photographic 
politics, you know, all those kinds of things. It does take time 
and energy, but you seem to have an awful lot of it when you're 
younger. I think any professional has an obligation to continue and 
support his profession. You take doctors, for instance. A good 
doctor has to do a lot of study as well as teaching and convention 
work, writing, and reporting. Scientists' reputations really depend 
pretty much on what they publish. Some scientists have got three or 
four hundred papers to their credit. Dr. Land and the late Meroe 
Morse, his famous chief assistant, got a coveted prize for the best 
article on photo technology. I can only understand one-tenth of it! 
But these things contribute hugely to the medium. 

Innovations and Patents 

Adams: The difficulty in industry is that pure science can be written about 
whenever the nature of science is being directed to a project. But 
then it becomes immediately very secret until the patents are 
obtained. And then production methods remain very confidential. 
You have to be a constant watchdog because once you allow a patent 
to be breached in any way you're out of luck. 

Teiser: Eastman does the same thing as Polaroid? 

Adams: Yes, they undoubtedly do the same thing. They have a tremendous 

laboratory, and they do a great deal of basic science. The problem 
is they don't have much imagination. Polaroid's labs work on a 
very different basis. They know they have to make money, and they 
always have done extremely well, but the company as a whole doesn't 
approach these programs only on finance. They approach them on 
creativity. Now Land had no reason to present this camera to 
scientific and technical groups other than that he wanted the 
community of scientists to know what was going on. Eastman might not 
do a thing like that. They'd present it to their own salesmen and 
dealers. But to really go into depth the way Land did, for a 
scientific group, which means not holding anything back, is remark 
able. He has of course given many professional demonstrations of 
various aspects of the Polaroid process. 

Teiser: Will the new SX-70 camera have implications for designs of other 
single-lens reflex cameras? 


Adams: I don't know. I think it's Polaroid's concept for quite a time to 

Teiser: The SX-70 camera is for color only? 

Adams: So far. They may have black and white some day. 

Teiser: No reason there shouldn't be, is there? 

Adams: No, I suppose theoretically you could say if you can do it in color 

you can do it in black and white, but there's nothing sure about that, 

Innovations and Aesthetic Demands 

Teiser: Is there any work being done in any systems not making use of 

Adams: Oh, the laboratories are spending fortunes on it. 
just assume this. It's a very interesting thing: 

I don't know. I 
way back in the 

1830s they found out that silver halide is light sensitive and 
they've found nothing since then that equals itl We have what they 
call Diazo; that's a dye image, pretty complicated and not permanent 
and rather bad color. Very bad even in black and white because it 
has to be a condensed color image. Then of course Xerox is electro 
static image, which is very important. Again it's very slow and it 
has a limited range. 

This Polaroid print of a marble head and leaf is practically 
what we call a "straight- line image." You can't make a print like 
that on ordinary paper. I haven't been able to make a print to come 
anywhere near it in quality. Now just why that is, is psychologic 
ally hard to define. 

I think there's a response, an instinctive response to creative 
patterns. The highly gifted artist has that to a much greater 
extent than others. It has either been developed or hasn't been. 
Perhaps it is a truly instinctive quality. 

Making Photographs and Printing Negatives 

Adams: I'm sure if you heard some music coming out of the phonograph that 
was Wagner you'd immediately recognize it, and yet you might play 
Strauss or Beethoven and get the same sounds, but that isn't it, you 

Adams: see. The same orchestra, the same instruments, but something else 
"happens." That whole thing applies to photography in the sense of 
values. The difference between a fine print and an ordinary print is 
terribly hard to define; in fact you can't, in a physical sense. It 
is a profound composite experience; putting everything together and 
instinctively meeting internal demands. 

So I think it would be hard to say just when did the casual 
interest in making pictures with emphasis on subject change into an 
awareness of the image as a thing in itself? You think of photography 
as an analytic art. The optical image of the world is very precise, 
so you've got to get the camera in a position where you get the 
maximum formal arrangements that you want. Then you make all kinds of 
tonal and spatial separations. That's one of the things that you 
learn very quickly. Like I told you yesterday, you're sitting here, 
and it doesn't bother me when I'm talking to you that the window cord 
comes out of your left ear or right ear [laughter]. I move around 
and control the relationship in space and time. But if I have the 
lens here, the picture shows a curtain cord coming out of your right 
ear, a highly unpleasant thing. This suggests the idea of following 
lines without mergers or confusions. And then, what is the value of 
the skin? I can measure the light reflected from your face. 
Probably fifty c/ft (candles per square foot) on one side, and 
fifteen c/ft^ on the other, but what does it feel like in terms of 
the print? If you know the zone system, you know where you place 
your values on the exposure scale of the negative, and that 
automatically tells you how to expose and develop. 

And then I think it is very important as a reference idea would 
be to compare the negative to the composer's score and the print to 
the performance. It doesn't mean what you call the photometric 
equivalent. If you're getting a negative that has the same propor 
tion of values as the negative, you'd be going through the photometric 
equivalent sequence. That might have value in science, but it would 
not have value as an expressive picture. In fact it might be 
extremely unpleasant. 

Teiser: Different performers have performed Bach, say, differently, so there 

are variations in performance. Can you conceive of taking one of 

your negatives say that you made many years ago and printing it 
now in quite a different way than you did? 

Adams: I do, I do. But it's not so different that it changes the basic 

character. I might print it harder, or I might print it softer, I 
might print it bigger, I can't really do anything fundamentally 
different with it. I can't change the subject of it, but I can 
change the interpretation. I was going through a lot of old pictures 
just the other day, and I couldn't understand how I could have 
printed them that way. They just looked tired. They had a small 


Adams: density scale (the reflection density scale). So if I took the 
negative and printed it so extremely different that there 'd be a 
really different image, that might be questionable. Maybe it wouldn't 

Teiser: In this, you're both the composer and the performer yourself. 

Adams: But I still would play differently, subtly differently within the 

Teiser: You have printed negatives of, I think, Brady 

Adams: [Matthew B.] Brady and [Ben] Wittick and [Arnold] Genthe. 

Teiser: Have you attempted to print as nearly as you could the way the 
photographer printed it? 

Adams: In the Genthe pictures I vastly improved it. Genthe used a terrible 
paper, a thing they call Opal, had kind of a bad green tone and dull 
surface. So most of his pictures are very romantic, have the turn- 
of-the-century feeling, but never showed all the negative contained. 
So I made the print, it was of the San Francisco before the fire. I 
made it my way, and I took it down, was scared to death to show it, 
and he loved it. I was afraid he might say, "Well, I don't like it 
that brilliant." Then I made Genthe' s "The Street of the Gamblers," 
a fantastic thing, done in 1904 with an old Kodak, roll film. 
Beautiful "anticipation." You could possibly pass it off as Arnold 
Genthe or W. Eugene Smith or Henri Cartier-Bresson by the style. 
But all his prints were sort of brownish green, soft, and "goofy." 
As for using glossy prints that was in earlier days only for news 
paper reproduction, etc. An "art" photographer was ashamed to make 
a glossy print, you know. Now we do the opposite thing. We want as 
much brilliance as possible! 

The Brady photographs, the photographs of the Brady group, were 
informational pictures, and they were done on wet plates, and of 
course, as they used the printing-out process, such were extremely 
contrasty. The printing-out process is where you put a piece of 
sensitive paper back of the film and expose it in strong light, and 
the effect of the light reduces the silver halide in the print paper 
to silver. You can see the picture building up. The printing frames 
have little back trap doors you can open and see the progress of 
printing. Now, as the silver builds up it acts as a shield for 
further exposure. It is self-masking. As you get to the maximum 
black, it takes a longer, and longer, and longer time, and in the 
meantime your gray and white values come through, and you print 
until you've got just the detail you want in all the values. As you 
print more than required you get gray results. But a modern normal 
negative printed that way would be so soft you would get very weak 


Adams: prints. And so these wet plate negatives of very high density and 

contrast, to print them I had to use A20 Number 0, the softest grade 
of A20, and an extremely soft developer. I did get some prints that 
were very close simulated the originals but any normal treatment 
given would result in far too contrasty prints. 

Teiser: Eastman wouldn't make you a special emulsion for this sort of thing? 
Adams: Well, they could. It would probably cost five or ten thousand dollars. 
Teiser: I see. [Laughter] 

Adams: It's got to the point now where with certain items you have to order 
a minimum of three or four hundred dollars' worth. For instance, if 
I want to use a roll of paper and make a big print the size of this 
door on No. 4 Kodabromide double weight glossy, I have to order about 
three hundred dollars' worth. They don't stock it. They stock the 
G surface and they stock something else. They have the paper, and 
out of their huge rolls they'll cut you three hundred dollars' worth. 
But they won't make up rolls in boxes and send them out in the country 
for sale, because it has a relatively short shelf life and not much 
if sold. If you keep it cool it's good for around two years, and 
I've used paper ten years old by putting potassium bromide in the 
developer to reduce the fog, providing it hasn't been subjected to 

Teiser: Who was the third photographer whose photographs you said you 

Adams: Ben Wittick. And then Bill Webb lives down here near us who's doing 
a second book on [Adam Clark] Vroman, the excellent photographer of 
the Southwest. He's having an awful time printing, because the 
negatives are not normal negatives, but he's got a fine technique 
he can manage them. But you can't do exactly what they did unless 
you use a printing-out paper. And you can't buy any good printing- 
out paper today. 

[End Tape 2, Side 2] 
[Begin Tape 3, Side 1] 

Photographs as Commodities 

Teiser: I don't know Ben Wittick. When was he? 

Adams: Oh, in the seventies, eighties, nineties, 
let's say. 

Teiser: Where did he photograph? 

Late nineteenth century, 


Adams: Southwest generally, to the best of my knowledge. 

You see, many of the Brady group, when the Civil War was over, 
went west to photograph. [Timothy H.j O'Sullivan, [William Henry] 
Jackson, I think [F.H.] Bell; several others did, went into profes 
sional or survey work. Of course they were all relatively young men 
then, and a lot of them didn't keep up photography. 

You see, Brady didn't make photographs himself. He was a 
promoter and a businessman. He would contract with the photographers 
for their services. Beaumont Newhall and I went through about five 
thousand Brady negatives in the [National] Archives (a big set had 
just been presented them) , and every negative envelope had the name 
of the photographer on it. But, you see, the photographer was 
seldom, if ever, given credit for all his photographs. But Matthew 
Brady, Incorporated, studios was given the credit. Now when [Roy E.] 
Stryker took over the photographic group at the time of the dust 
bowl that's the Farm Resettlement project history he got his group 
of superb photographers together, but they always got the credit. 
That was the difference; the photographers got the credit. F.S.A. 
[Farm Security Administration],* Dorothea Lange photographed for it. 
They always gave full credit. 

Now, we don't think that Brady intended to omit such credits, 
but photography was nothing but a business at that time. And if you 
did a story, you wouldn't give credit to every item that went out. 
If you go to a machine shop and have a device made, it would be made 
by the Blank Machine Company, and they don't name Joe Doaks, etc., 
who perhaps did the actual work. So it's a psychological approach. 
Photography didn't mean anything in terms of creative art. The men 
even exchanged negatives. O'Sullivan would bemoan the fact that he 
didn't have something of the Southern Colorado plateau, for example, 
but Jackson had, so he'd trade him one for something else. 

So, photography was a kind of commodity. They only became 
conscious of it as a personal and expressive art at a much later 
date. Excepting a few people (very few) Stieglitz, Cameron, [Paul] 
Strand those people maintained the integrity of the artist. I think 
Vroman was probably okay. He realized what he'd done. But then on 
the other hand, it was a kind of exploitation to allow the Union 
Pacific to use his photographs and hand-color them. God-awful 
calendars and posters and timetables that were hand-colored re 
productions ad nauseam! I don't know how far I'm going afield 

Teiser: No, no. It's all within the 

*Stryker headed the photographic unit of the historical section of the 
Division of Information of the Resettlement Administration, which in 
1937 became the Farm Security Administration. 


Photography and Politics 

Adams: So then we had the Photo League in New York, which formed before 

the war [World War II] primarily as a cinema group. After the war it 
was re-formed as a still group. It was taken over by the Commies and 
was put on the "red list." Many of the best photographers were un 
wittingly trapped in that. I was tipped off. I was down here, and 
they called me up and said, "This board is now in control of the 
Commies and you better do something about it." So I called my lawyer 
and he said, "Write them a letter and ask them: Are you becoming 
politically inclined or aren't you? I joined as simply a photographer." 
And he said, "Send a copy to the F.B.I." I didn't get any answer, so 
I sent them a resignation. I said, "I joined this for photographic 
purposes, not for political or ideological reasons. I don't want to 
be associated with Republican, Democrat, Commie or anything. I mean 
it's bad business to get all wrapped up in the political thing." I 
sent that to the F.B.I, too, and the letters got me clearance quite 
fast when I needed it most, because I had disclaimed any political 
association. But other young people paid no attention to it at all. 
One of them had a job with the government overseas and got all the 
way over to London before he was investigated and sent home. 

That was mostly in the awful McCarthy period, so even if you had 
only read a chapter of Marx, you were a subversive. Of course, as an 
American that makes you very mad. But the thing I resented was not 
any fear for myself from the thing, because I knew what I believed in, 
but being automatically included in the propaganda business. My best 
rejoinder is now if you want me to join things if somebody calls up 
very impassioned and says, "You must write a letter to the government," 
I say, "I'm just not a push-button liberal." A lot of people say, 
"Oh, sure, I'll come right out with an idea that's in favor of any 
thing a Democrat would say, and any Republican is bad," and so on. 
(And vice versa, I can assure you.) But it's fairly hard sometimes 
to be really logical, retain a logical opinion, and so I just have 
that phrase to fall back upon, "I'm not interested in being a push 
button liberal." 

Group f/6A 

Teiser: Back to an earlier organization that you were part of and then 

Adams: Oh, the f/64 Group, yes? 


Teiser: Do you remember how that started? 

Adams: Yes. For several years after 1930, two years anyway, I had been 

talking to my friends about getting a group together and profess 
watch that cat so it doesn't get out! you know, make sort of a 
manifesto on straight photography, because the camera club people were 
pretty dismal; [William] Mortensen down south [in Southern California] 
was a prime example. Oh, there was some terrible stuff. 

So Willard Van Dyke and a few others said, "It's a good idea; 
what '11 we call it?" It was Willard who came up with "f/64." That 
means a small stop, a very small stop on the lens which [makes for] 
clarity and depth, the kind of image qualities typical of Edward 
Weston's work and our work. We don't enjoy any fuzzy imagery anywhere. 

We had this group formed, with Edward Weston, Sonia Noskowiak, 
John Paul Edwards, Alma Lavenson, Willard Van Dyke, Imogen Cunningham, 
Henry Swift, and myself. We had several very interesting shows, and 
supported a kind of manifesto (you know, like the Dadaists); we pro 
tested against the conventional misuse of the medium. Here was this 
beautiful medium of photography which was being bastardized by soft- 
focus lenses and paper negatives and all of the things that they used 
to make the lens image look unlike a photograph. And then after a 
year or so, we decided that we'd done all we could, and we'd just 
repeat ourselves; it would become a cult, and Weston didn't want to 
be in a cult, so we decided we'd simply disband. However, it did 
create a cult, and the cult is still with us! Everybody apparently 
creates a cult. Edward Weston had a cult, and I guess I've got one; 
people are imitating me. But Group f/64 did have a profound influence 
on making people realize that the straight photographic image could be 
beautiful, and not the pictorial doctored one. 

Teiser: Maybe this is the place to correct a thing that's in print. The 

Gernsheim A Concise History of Photography says that Willard Van Dyke 
started the f/64 Group. 

Adams: Well, I would say Willard Van Dyke was instrumental, certainly a 
leader. I would say (this is not boasting) I had proposed such a 
group for two years. Willard Van Dyke activated it said, "Well, 
let's do it," you see, and proposed the name. That's half right, at 
least. I don't think it makes much difference so long as the other 
people are mentioned. 

Teiser: The others were all established by that time? 

Adams: Some were amateurs and some were professionals. Imogen Cunningham 
was a professional; Alma Lavenson was semi-professional; Noskowiak 
was professional; I was a professional; Van Dyke was quasi- 
professional he was really interested in film but running a gas 


Adams: station to make a living, and also doing black and white photographs. 
And, of course, Edward Weston was a creative-professional. Then 
there was Henry Swift, the businessman, but of rare creative ability, 
and John Paul Edwards, who was a former pictorialist, a businessman. 

Teiser: How did you happen to let him in? 

Adams: He was good. 

Teiser: He was within the scope? 

Adams: He was within the pattern. He was very supportive of the thing and 
was doing very good photographs. 

Teiser: Did you discuss "painterly" photographs? 

Adams: Painterly? Oh, well, I guess that was what we were fighting. We 
were fighting the idea of photographs imitating the feeling or the 
looks, the appearance of other media. The straight photograph was 
sneered at. There was no possibility of it being art, so earlier 
photographers were always trying to add something to simulate art. 
That was done with paper negatives, and texture screens, and rough 
papers, and bromoils and gum prints everything imaginable! You 
just look through Caf fin's history I'll loan it to you. Have you 
seen it yet, the one the Friends of Photography gave to the members? 
Caf fin's Photography As an Art?* I'm going to give you that book, 
because that will show you much. This was at this difficult turn of 
the century, when Stieglitz was trying to get away from the domina 
tion of the Manhattan Camera Club, and a lot of these people such 
as Gertrude Kasebier as well can't think of them all. Out here 
Ann Brigman did nudes and junipers at Lake Tahoe all soft focus. 
But they were very definite attempts to be creative, much more so 
than the ordinary pictorialists, who were just being literary or 
descriptive or making a fetish of being not sharp.** I've had people 
say to me, "Now, if you only would give that a little soft focus, 
do something to improve it it's so brutally hard now." And I made 
all kinds of soft-focus pictures on rough Dassonville or Wellington 
papers, and I did some bromoils. I've got a bromoil over there, 
where the image is recreated in ink beautiful permanent image, 
carbon black. But not sharp I 

[End Tape 3, Side 1] 

*Charles H. Caf fin's book, originally published in 1901, was re- 
published in 1971 by Morgan & Morgan for the Friends of Photography, 
**For more recollections of Group f/64, see mentions as indexed. 


[Interview III 14 May 1972] 
[Begin Tape 3, Side 2] 

Teiser: Yesterday we were talking about the Caff in book 

Adams: Yes. The idea of the division of photography between the "artistic" 
and the straight record, which was just discussed semantics always 
seems to intrude on common sense in photography but a documentary 
record would imply an image in which there was nothing conveyed but 
merely a factual record. You'd have a competent image; you may be 
getting as much as possible in it, but none of it might carry any 
conviction. Most of the very early photographs (many of those of 
today) were very dull pictures of things. A few outstanding people 
did much better. But the straight, detailed photograph a sharp, 
simple print, of course, was not considered artistic. So, the so- 
called "artistic minded" photographers just attempted to imitate 
painting. And there's a very hazy line between the pictorialist , 
who is not intense, is more or less an imitator, and the person who 
was trying to think of photography in the "feeling" of the time, 
but being very sensitive to composition and arrangement, and seeing. 
Although many of their prints do not look like our sharp prints 
today, there is a very definite camera "seeing" ability, and it 
takes quite a lot of study to really confirm that. 

This Caffin book, for instance, has some of it, I think. Of 
course, some of the work is very dull, and some of it is, in a 
sense, manipulated, but it is a break from painting, although they 
used a lot of fancy borders and toned prints and so on. The student 
of photography can observe that they weren't "seeing" the world as 
the painter might see it; they were beginning to see it as 


Adams: In the next ten to twenty years, Stieglitz represents the transition 
from almost imitative work, imitating the spirit and the appearance 
of other media, into the spirit and reasonable impression of the 
photographic image. 

Teiser: There are two Stieglitz photographs in the Caffin book, on page 30 
and page 36, that we wondered if you'd comment upon. 

Adams: The greatest body of Stieglitz's work, I guess, was done in the 

eighties and nineties. You said 30 and 36? Both these were strictly 


Adams: photographs, pure photographs, in existing light. They're night 

pictures. Their effect is from what we call "existing light." In 
other words, the light in this room is existing. The light outside 
is existing. Even if I turn on the lights in the house, that's 
existing light. The instant I come in with a lamp and direct the 
lamp on the subject, we say that's "imposed lighting," really 
artificial lighting in the sense of supplying or contriving 
illumination. Now there's a point between those two where you add 
light to either simulate or enhance the existing light. And if you 
were doing this picture, say, for television and you wanted to get 
the spirit of this house, you wouldn't have enough light, so in some 
way you would have to direct a diffuse built-up illumination so that 
the feeling approached a simulation of reality. But the chances are 
they'd just come in and put a big light over there, a big light over 
here, and it would be absolutely false to the character of the 
place or its illumination. 

Teiser: Stieglitz's icy night picture, the earlier one, if you looked at 

it quickly I suppose you'd say it was soft focus, but perhaps it's 
the atmosphere. The other seems sharp. 

Adams: Well, no, Stieglitz might have used soft focus. I don't know what 
he did; I mean, he did everything sooner or later. But there were 
lenses that were "uncorrected." Well, let's see, Weston used a 
portrait lens (the name will come to me). Whereas at the larger 
openings, it was slightly soft focus, when you stop down around 16 
and 22, it gets sharp. The Graf Variable Anastigmat it was called. 
I want to correct that: I think that that was independent of the 
stop, but the soft-focus effect came by separating the elements. 
In other words, you didn't get a sharp image. 

Now, this does you're quite right this looks like a slightly 
diffused image. It might also be a way of printing it, maybe a 
platinum print that was on a textured paper. I've seen it, and as 
I remembered, it was much sharper than the reproduction. But you 
mustn't mix up sharpness and acuteness. Acuteness is an impression 
of sharpness, because we have what is called a "micro-density 
relationship;" that is, value-edges from light to dark are very 
abrupt. Now, if you have a diffusion effect, there's a curve or 
slant between the light and dark values instead of an abrupt change. 
So this photograph looks as if there was low acuteness in the snow- 
covered branches, but as you look down other places, you find little 
dark branches that look quite sharp. So you think somewhere there's 
a flare, or diffusion of light or silver. When you look over here, 
you think it's much sharper, and it is. But these are reproductions 
of reproductions, so it's awfully hard to tell. 

Teiser: Did Stieglitz ever work in the early, pictorial idiom? 
Adams: Oh yes. He did lots of things in these modes. 


Teiser: And then did he just suddenly decide that that was not the way to go 

Adams: Well, let me see now. I'm not enough of an historian to make a 

correct statement here, but these early works were pretty factual. 
He went around the Alps, made many photographs of the Alps, and in 
all of that period, his work was quite sharp, as I remember. Then 
he went back to America in the 1890s and 1900s and was trying to work 
at the Manhattan Camera Club, and did some things that really weren't 
very sharp, and whether he did it intentionally, whether that's what 
he wanted to do just keeping up with the Joneses I don't know. 
But, nevertheless, he did make quite a break with the Manhattan Club 
and other groups , and said that photography was art and could not 
imitate, and then selected works which he felt were not imitations 
of general work of the time. 

Teiser: By the time you knew him, he was established in this? 

Adams: Oh, well, he had gone through the whole period of Camera Work, 

publication, and a great deal of creative work that became sharper 
and sharper as time went on. Some of his later prints are very 
sharp. I have a print, "City at Night" it's on a smooth surface. 
It's a very beautiful, clear photograph. He didn't care for Weston. 
Stieglitz had a vastly greater warmth of tone and warmth of feeling. 
Weston 's work was more intellectual, straightforward, black and white. 

Teiser: You knew of Stieglitz, of course he was well-known here on the 
Coast, I presume before you went east in 1933. 

Adams: No, very little. He was known by reputation here only. He only 

went as far west as Chicago once. He was a distant relative of the 
Sigmund Sterns [of San Francisco], 

Teiser: Oh, he was? Well, 

Adams: Well, it's a complicated thing. He married I believe into the 

Lehmann family, and Mrs. Stern's sister married a Lehmannf?], Charles 
Lehmann, so somewhere they were second or third cousins. Charles 
Lehmann was a brewer Lehmann breweries, tremendously wealthy and 
lived in New York. Mrs. Stern knew Stieglitz, and she had bought 
at least one O'Keeffe,* so she gave me a letter when I went east, 
a letter of introduction. Weston had a bad time with him; they 
didn't get along. Stieglitz could be very, very difficult. In 
fact, kind of ferociously negative at times. But that I think is 
a separate story, that whole Stieglitz episode. My meeting with him 
and everything. 

Teiser: Would you tell it? 

Adams: Most of this material is in The Eloquent Light 

*Painting by Georgia O'Keeffe. 


Teiser: Yes. 

Adams: But I went there with this letter, and it was an awful day, a rainy 
April morning in 1933. Stieglitz had just moved into the American 
Place on Madison Avenue, and he wasn't feeling well and was looking 
very grim. So he nodded and I gave him my letter, and he opened it. 
He said, "All this woman has is a lot of money, and if things go on 
the way they're going now she won't even have that. What do you 
want?" I was rather mad, really, in a chivalrous sense. I said, 
"I came up to meet you and show you some of my work." He said, 
"Well, I can't possibly do it now, but come back this afternoon 
about two-thirty," and turned his back on me. So I went out in the 
streets and pounded up and down Madison Avenue in the rain and got 
madder and madder and madder and wanted to get the first train home. 
And then I figured, "No, I came all this way to see Stieglitz; I'd 
better stick it out." 

So I was up there at two-thirty, and Stieglitz was sitting on 
this cot, with a sore tongue he had some kind of a circulatory 
trouble, and his tongue would get sore. And he was holding his 
handkerchief and talking. Finally put the handkerchief away and 
then, in a most uncomfortable position, looked through my portfolio. 
There was this one hard cot, and the only thing for me to sit on 
was the steam radiator. I was getting gradually corrugated and 
grilled on the steam radiator [laughter], and he looked all through 
the work the folios. And every time I tried to say something, he 
put his hand up for silence. So we went through this thing in dead 

Then he took the portfolio and he closed it all up and tied all 
three strings, and then he looked at me. And then he opened the 
portfolio up again, and he went over all the prints again. He really 
looked at them slantwise to the light, saw how they were done, 
mounted, etc. Well, by that time, me and the radiator were not 
getting along too well and I was pacing around. So finally he tied 
it up again, and he said, "Well, that's about the finest photography 
I've seen in a long time. I want to compliment you." It was quite 
a happy shock, and from that time on we were very good friends. But 
he sure made it difficult at first. 

The first moments were pretty tough, and many other people had 
a similar experience. It was sort of a testing. If he didn't like 
you, he didn't like you, and he had nothing to do with you period. 
If he did like you, he was fine, but he was irascible. 

Teiser: Then he gave you a show. 
Adams: Then in 1936 he gave me a show. 



Adams ? 


Did he influence your work, would you say? 

No. Well, what he did, you see, he affirmed a very high standard, 
and opened up a very different point of view from any I'd ever known 
of before. And that point of view was reinforced by his contact 
with the contemporary arts. He was the one that brought many of the 
greatest contemporaries to this country. Steichen would meet them 
and see them in Europe, and then send examples of their work to him. 
So he gave the first showing to Negro sculpture and Picasso and many 
others for the first time in America he was a very important 
influence in contemporary art. 

So the influence was not technical. I mean, I got my great 
craft boost out of Paul Strand's negatives I saw in New Mexico 
earlier. Paul Strand is, in a sense, a purer photographer than 
Stieglitz. I mean, a straighter photographer if you want to use the 
term. But the Stieglitz influence was a contact and an awareness of 
a bigger world than I'd ever known, you see. And tying photography 
in with that, of course, gave it a different stature. So, it was 
a vital new experience. Both Stieglitz and Strand did have a 
profound effect on my work. It would be hard to describe. 

Now, I knew Weston very well; we were very close friends, and 
had mutual affectionate regard. But his work never moved me, never 
stirred me to do anything different. Just reaffirmed clarity. In 
fact I was bothered by the emphasis on shape and form. I mean I 
thought he was extracting sort of voluptuous effects shapes out 
of things and gave them sexy undertones or overtones. He disclaimed 
that most of the time. People read into it what they will. Peppers 
looked like nudes, etc. And that bothered me because I thought it 
was an imposition of something on the object. I didn't feel it 
necessary to go that far. I think Strand felt the same way. And 
I think Strand had the greatest influence on me 

You met him in New Mexico in 1930? 


What was he like, personally? 

Strand? Oh, he's eighty-three now, and he's he's a little aloof, 
a little dour, moves and thinks rather slowly. I mean, he's very 
deliberate, and he's a very fine artist, and a very kind and 
understanding person, indeed. [Interruption for telephone conversa 


Teiser : 

When you first met him was he well launched on his career? 
well known? 

Was he 

Adams: Oh yes. He had his first show when he was sixteen or seventeen. 
And he'd experimented with movies. He had very strong leftist 
political orientations. In fact that's why he moved to France. 
Couldn't get along with our particular system, although he'd 
inherited quite a lot of money and seemed to take advantage of the 
system, as so many people do. But he was at the Photo League and 
stood up for them during this distressing political probe and was 
very definitely on the "list." It was an awful thing.* 

Teiser: But was he personally encouraging to you? 

Adams: Yes, yes. He didn't see many of my things until much later. But he 
was very reserved. Yet when my show of Manzanar Relocation Camp and 
the people the Japanese-Americans was at the Museum of Modern Art, 
he was quite visibly moved, wiping his eyes, though he wasn't saying 
anything. Now whether that was because of the social implications, 
the photography, or the combination, I don't know. 

V. Adams: I'm going down to Point Lobos. 

Adams: Look out for that road there; it's very dangerous. [To Teiser] Ex 
cuse me. 

Teiser: I think in Mrs. Newhall's The Eloquent Light she says you saw at 
first just his negatives and admired them. 

Adams: Yes. You see, if you're a photographer, your negatives sometimes 
are more important to the student than prints. Now, I won't say 
that for an individual picture. I mean, you might not visualize 
the real print, but when you see a series of negatives and they all 
have this clarity and this organization, you may become very moved. 
And you realize how they could be ruined by bad printing. Anybody 
who could make negatives like those was a superior photographer. 
I wouldn't be able to tell just how he would print them. But I know 
that the negative has the inherent great qualities. I think some 
times with the negative you're more conscious of the design and 
organization than you are with the print because you don't have the 
subjects in positive form dominating you. 

Teiser: I suppose when I ask you about influences, I'm asking for over 
simplification. I mean, I'm sure you were going your own way. 

*See p. 49. 


Adams: I don't think influences are always very obvious. I think that you 

never know what's going to influence you, and I've seen some students' 
work that influenced me very much. I mean the student has seen the 
thing in a new way, and I remember that whether I consciously use it 
or not. But, I certainly was negatively affected by Mr. Mortensen, 
by the pictorialists. I never was excited about Clarence White , but 
lately I'm beginning to feel much better about him. 

Teiser: Why? 

Adams: Well, he had a very fine sense of composition but the prints were, 
with a few exceptions, a bit soft and vague for my taste. 

I think that's what bothered me. I was kind of a purist, and 
I was feeling that a lot of these photographers saw things very well 
and, like some workers in the Photo League, just made bad prints. 
And you learn later that the fine print, per se, is something which 
may not convey the idea. Maybe you want a hard, brutal grainy print, 
like the work of Lisette Model; it's phenomenal in its way. The most 
brutal black and white prints you've ever seen, and in absolute 
resonance with her way of seeing her subjects. So I think it would 
be very narrow to say she's not a great photographer because her 
prints don't look like Weston's or mine. You know, it would be 
silly it would be impossible. I think if I were to take a Lisette 
Model negative and make a rich-toned print and beautifully mounted, 
it would be very apparent something was phony. 

I think that in the professional sense [Anton] Bruehl strongly 
influenced me, and Paul Outerbridge, Ira Martin, and the Morgans 
(the Willard Morgan family), of course, for many years. But I really 
can't describe, for a student to figure out, where the influences are 
because, as I say, I'd go on trips with Edward and I'd see all his 
work and prints, and we were the closest of friends and had great 
admiration, but nothing really important happened to me with him. 
I didn't change my opinion or approach at all. 

Taste, Perspective, and Distortion 

Teiser: In discussing photography with people whose photographs you don't 
necessarily admire tremendously, do ideas come to you in an inter 
change of opinion? 

Adams: Oh sure. Ideas come. Sometimes I have occasions to be very 

critical because of unnecessary sloppiness. The thing that bothers 
me more than anything else is weakness. I don't mean what fascists 
would say was weak, but just no body, namby-pamby. You know, many 


Adams: musicians just play, and so what? Well, many of the photographs 
you see are just so what? The way the photographers see, the way 
they print, the way they present the prints, the way they handle 
them. When I see a kid come up with a portfolio and he has a nice 
print protected by a slipsheet, the chances are that the work is 
good. It may not be; it may be a great shock; you might find some 
awful, tasteless things. I always say, there's nothing worse than a 
clear, sharp image of a fuzzy concept. [Laughter] You get a terrible 
concept it might be physically sharp, but it's just empty or in bad 

Then of course you say that and somebody asks back, "Well, how 
can we define taste? Can you really say that you can define what is 
good taste?" 

Teiser: [Laughs] Can you? 

Adams: Well, you can. Now, if you say, "I refer you to art standards," 

you're saying you relate tastes in photography to tastes in painting, 
and you've been saying that there shouldn't be that influence. 

Teiser: It's too bad that photography wasn't invented first. 

Adams: Well, of course the camera obscura was used for a long time, and we 
don't know how many (I suppose it is known somewhere) old paintings 
were influenced by this optical image. One of the important things 
to me is that one of the first daguerreotypes in 1839, that one of 
the boulevards in Paris, shows that the lens is a beautiful 
instrument. It has no distortion and shows perfect definition over 
the entire field. Now, why would they need a lens like that before 
there was photography? And Beaumont Newhall said, "They used to 
draw and project architecture on the screen. The camera obscura 
would reveal the image, and then they would draw lines upon it." 
They did have accurate lenses. 

Teiser: Didn't landscape painters have a little gadget they carried? 

Adams: The Claude Lorrain glass, a reflective device that enhanced color 
relationships. I really don't know what it did. We use a viewing 
filter today which changes the colors, or rather neutralizes colors 
makes what you see look more like what the panchromatic plate sees 
without a filter. But the Claude Lorrain glass was both a trans 
mission and a reflecting glass, I think. It would reflect and see 
simplicities; a lot of detail would be gone. They'd just see mass 
and body, and they'd get their composition quicker. But that was 
for a certain type of painter. You see, Giotto did not have 
perspective. Everything was flat, you remember, and perspective was 
sometimes implied by a change of scale, but the idea of drawing 
converging lines was a later development. 


Teiser: But in photography you can't escape it. 

Adams: You can't, no. Perspective is a function of distance of lens, and if 
I have a 20- inch lens on a camera right here, that door is going to 
be very big and the angle is very small. If I put on a 5-inch lens, 
the angle is going to be larger, but the perspective will be the same. 
Of course, in the large-image picture I don't get the impression of a 
deep perspective because I don't see many converging lines. I only 
see the lines that converge towards the center of the subject. So 
long-distance pictures, made with long lenses, always look fairly 
flat. Telephoto images are fairly two-dimensional. 

We only see about a degree when we look at something. We have 
peripheral vision of about what is it? Forty degrees? Depends on 
the individual. But when I'm looking at that door, I can see you and 
I can see this window. I'm only seeing the door sharp, and I'm 
seeing recognizable objects as far over as the lamp there, because 
what I'm doing is moving my eyes and head. So I have the illusion 
of always observing a sharp image. 

In one way the eye is a very poor instrument optically, because 
it has a very small field of sharp definition. But it is also an 
extremely sensitive psychological instrument. It will pick up 
something here and interpret it, though you might not see it "clearly." 
I can't recognize you when I look in there. I know there's two 
people there, but you can make the slightest motion and it will be 
recorded, and I would look at you. And then I would establish by 
that the reality of you and the door. And I would put the lens here, 
and I'd get you and the door, and a strange thing happens: the 
element of scale comes in, because I have a direct comparison between 
your head and the door. Now, when I'm looking at you I only have 
your head, and when I look at the door I have the door or part of it. 
And I adjust immediately. 

When you take the photograph, that's where your scale comes in, 
and the longer focal length lens the more accurate the relative scale 
becomes. In other words, you take a very distant picture of a peak, 
and there's a pine tree. Well, the pine tree and the peak you can 
compare them. If you knew how big the pine tree was, you'd know how 
big the peak would be. When you come up nearer with a short focal 
length lens, you have near-far, the domination of the near subject, 
so it's entirely out of scale. That's one of the magical things that 
can happen in photography, where you get exaggeration of the scale 
and feeling of depth. 

We were just looking through the things I did in the Boston 
Museum of Egyptian sculpture. This huge seated figure in the room, 
and back of it, down the hall are little busts. Well, due to the 
camera we were using and the film, I couldn't stop the lens down, so 


Adams: the head's not diamond sharp, but still the figure was absolutely 

enormous because of the reference to the optical size of the busts in 
the distance. Now, if I can move down through the museum and out 
across the street and photograph the same scene with a 30-inch or a 
40- inch lens in the same camera, then the scale would be almost 
relative, and the busts would assume their true relative size. 

Teiser: TO continue that comparison with painting this means that the 
photographer is trapped by his lenses? 

Adams: He's trapped by optical considerations. If he uses the single 

negative and doesn't make combination pictures, he is trapped by his 
lens and the camera. The key is his focal length of lenses; he has 
different lenses, and he has adjustments on the camera to compensate 
for focus and correcting for convergence within a small range. The 
basic thing in photography when you take your ideal position, you 
first set your camera level. Of course, all this is intuitive. 
You're out with a tripod and you just do that automatically before 
you do anything else. And then you start moving around. But if you 
just put it down carelessly and then you get a picture of, say, the 
ocean with a tilting horizon it simply shows that you have not 
thought of your image . 

You have the geometrical accuracy to contend with, especially 
with photography of architecture. If a building is plumb vertical, 
then the camera back must be parallel to it, and if not you get a 
convergence, one way or the other. The same takes place in the eye, 
but of course, here again we have the psychological controls the 
eye "corrects." If I were doing a picture of some architecture, say 
of this room, and I was using my four by five view camera, I would 
first get my camera back absolutely level if I wanted to have all of 
these vertical and horizontal lines true and level. Then the lens 
image normally would be cut off at the top, so I'd use the rising 
front, lifting up the lens (hope the lens has coverage) to include 
more of the room height. If this is not sufficient, I must tilt the 
camera up, and then bring the back to parallel position. Then I 
would tilt the lens to correct the focus, and if I focus on something 
very close, I might have to tilt the lens further forward. I can 
tilt the lens without changing the "geometry" of the image. But the 
instant I tilt the back I'm changing the geometry, although I can 
use the back with nonlinear subjects to correct the near-far focus. 
If there aren't any straight lines, you are not aware of convergence. 

Teiser: It makes painting seem easy by comparison. 

Adams: Well, I don't think it is. Of course in painting you can place 

elements as you want. The thing is you're free, and you get myriads 
of impressions over time, and then you organize them in a creative 
fashion. But painting is a synthetic medium in that sense, and 
photography is analytic. Some people use multiple negatives, double 


Adams: printing, and a lot of contemporary work employs solarization and 
other special techniques. But you still have the optical image as 
the base. There's nothing that you can do about that. 

Of course, you can distort if you want. Some people will 
distort in the enlarger. But the word "distort" is a negative term. 
I mean sometimes we use tilts in the enlarger to correct for distor 
tion in the negative that we couldn't correct in the camera. If we 
have a slight convergence we can tilt our base board in the enlarger 
and correct that convergence. But if we over-retouch or manipulate 
the negative, the dividing line between good taste and bad may be 
quite apparent. But again, who can really define good taste? 

Teiser: Well, when you look at the photographs of a man like Weegee* 

Adams: Well, Weegee was a great clown. Weegee was an extraordinary person. 
He really was a clown, and his aesthetic sense as we think of 
aesthetics was practically zero. He had an uncanny news sense. He 
had second-sight, premonition. He'd actually be at a place waiting 
for an accident to happen, and it would I Fantastic. And then later 
on he started using these distorting devices, and it all ended up 
being I don't think of any importance whatsoever. His really great 
pictures are the news pictures he had of tragic events. The fire 
in Harlem is one, and the one of the two dowagers leaving or going 
to the opera is one of the great satirical photographs. 

Teiser: That's distortion of one kind. 

The Photogram 

Teiser: Did Moholy-Nagy use distortion, or did he ? 

Adams: I .don't know. He might have used devices, but to my knowledge he 
didn't. In addition to his camera he worked with what is known as 
a "photogram," which doesn't use a lens; it's a shadowgram. In 
other words, he takes sensitive paper or film and he puts things on 
it or over it. Some things may be solid, others translucent; some 
things intensify light, and some things just cast shadow. You 
perhaps expose for a short moment, and then you rearrange these 
objects and make another exposure. What he's doing is getting a 
quasi-abstract image without reference, you see, to the optical 
image. Now, it would be possible to combine them, so you can't be 
rigid about it. Pirkle Jones did some perfectly beautiful things. 

*Weegee was the professional name of Arthur Fellig. 


Adams: I think he used honey and objects on it. Honey would float over the 
paper or flow between paper and glass and leave these beautiful 
patterns. And they were of very fine tonal quality. Moholy-Nagy's 
were usually very careless in this respect, very unspotted and blown 
up big, and then he would claim that they were "constructions." But 
I don't think they were. I always used to say, "Well, if you want 
to do that, why don't you draw? Why don't you do what Kepes did or 
Herbert Bayer or a lot of people did, really? Draw your quasi- 
abstractions." But then he'll show you something where you get a 
translucent glow or reflections, say, through a glass sphere you 
can't draw that, you see. So, I think the photogram isn't really 
photography, it just uses photo-sensitive material, but with 
beautiful results. 

There was a woman here that died, Margaret Valeceritos, who 
would make a negative, and then she'd put it under hot water, and the 
gelatin would melt and flow, and she'd get very weird and lovely 
things . Then they came out with the new synthetic emulsions and 
they won't melt, so she was frantic; she couldn't follow her career 
in that direction! [Laughter] I guess that's life, you know. 

Nuclear Bombs and Photographic Materials 

Adams: If nuclear explosives were fired in the atmosphere, photography 

would be in a spot. That would be the end of it. I mean one little 
nuclear device in Lake Ontario and Kodak would be out of the picture, 
because you couldn't avoid the radiation specks in the sensitive 
materials. And to get a clear sky would be practically impossible. 
So we're keeping our fingers crossed. Peace at any price! 

Teiser: Have there been any effects on photography of the Nevada blasts? 

Adams: Oh yes. The big one that got away from them sent a hot cloud east 
over Utah, and everybody had to go indoors at St. George. It hit a 
Union Pacific freight train on its way to Los Angeles. There was a 
whole car of Eastman film with a lot of x-ray film. Our doctor in 
Yosemite called me up one morning and said, "I'm stuck; I'm having 
a terrible time. Can you come and look and see if you can figure out 
what's happening?" I came to the hospital and, gee, there were these 
awful-looking spots on the film. So I said, "Let's take one out of 
the box and develop it." It had the same defects. Then I looked at 
it, and then I knew what it was because I'd read about it. The ray 
striking the film is so powerful it desensitizes it, so there's just 
a little transparent hole burnt in the emulsion a bullet hole like 
my Black Sun picture. And then the energy is dispersed sideways so 
there's a halo. It looks like a doughnut, with a kind of hazy outer 


Adams: edge. And the more powerful it is, the bigger the doughnut, and 
those were all over the film. The ray went right through the 
packing, and probably penetrated that without restraint, until it 
hit the foil, then it was scattered and activated, and turned from 
one level of energy to another, which then affected the film. 

Then that same cloud affected cornfields in the Midwest, where 
there's some factories that make cartons out of cornhusks. A lot of 
the crude paper that you see has everything, including cornhusks, in 
it. The Kodak yellow boxes for film a lot of them are made of that, 
and some of that stuff was radioactive. DuPont had to close their 
plant for a week, cut off all their air conditioning. Kodak had self- 
internal cycling, and they could go ahead. Of course, long before 
the time the cloud got to Rochester it was so weak there was no 
danger to humans, but nevertheless, there could be some ruined film 
and paper, and it got a little hairy for a while. So if you had one 
big nuclear explosion, you'd have very serious trouble although it 
might not be affecting you physically at all. We apparently can 
take a lot of radiation; we have background radiation to contend with 
constantly. I've seen the white flashes, the cosmic ray flashes the 
astronauts write about. I've seen that a lot. People always say, 
"Well, that's just a capillary bursting in the retina or in the brain. 
That happens to everybody." Now it's figured out that it's cosmic 
ray impact on the optic nerve or back in those receptors. Just a 
flash. You close your eyes and you see it when at high altitudes. 

Nature Photographs; Points of View 

Teiser: We were talking about the use of photography in conservation in 

general, in maintaining a decent world. I guess it had better be 
used in its own self-defense too, hadn't it? 

Adams: Oh yes. That's important. Well, the full use of photography, I 

believe, has to have some kind of a project, whether it's a business 
one or a social one or just a personal series of photographs to 
express what you think I mean, a reason for doing it. Not just go 
out and go "bang, bang, bang" and hope you find something you can 

In the conservation world, [This isl the American Earth was a rathe 
heroic thing, one of the first books on the conservation theme. And 
there we brought in the human theme as well as the natural. The 
implication of the beauty of nature that's needed in a world so that 
you want to continue to live in it. But now you find people who are 
doing just countless pictures of natural details and birds and bugs 
and sunsets without the human connection. And what it does is to 


Adams: give a lot of people who know about it a certain happy confirmation 
"that's what I like too" feeling, you know. And the ghetto people 
and the unfortunate classes and groups, they can't possibly understand 
it. And there's a big resentment coming now among the poor of the 
country and the racist groups a resentment against spending all this 
money on wilderness, which to them is just pampering thousands of 
acres of nothing, when that same money should be going into housing 
and better education. They have something very important there, 
from the human point of view. They feel that politically or 
tactically, I guess, the approaches aren't making for a balance. So 
for every ten million that is put into a national park or wilderness 
area, there should be an equivalent amount that's put into education 
and human welfare. But then the whole thing becomes totally 
ridiculous when you think they're spending enough money every day 
of the [Vietnam] war to establish a national park, or clean out a 
ghetto. Then you have this conflict all the time between the people 
who had an early experience and were conditioned to certain things 
relating to nature, and the people who were raised in cities. 

We had a group of underprivileged children up at Yosemite, and 
the kids became terrified and had to go home a couple of days before 
they'd planned. They were away from other people, and all these big 
things just scared them. So that's another subject, and a very 
profound one, in a way. 

[End Tape 3, Side 2] 
[Begin Tape A, Side 1] 
Adams: Where were we now? 

Teiser: I was about to say that I was interested in the fact that you used 
one of your earliest sets of photographs of the Kings River Canyon 
in the interests of conservation and took them into Washington 

Adams: Oh yes, I used 

Teiser: Could you tell about that episode? 

Adams: Well, I'd had a tremendous collection of pictures of the Sierra 

Nevada that appeared in various Sierra Club things in the John Muir 
Trail book* and I made some enlargements for display for congressmen. 
So the work was chosen because well, put it this way: there were 
thousands, maybe millions, of pictures made, but I came along with a 
creative interpretation which got over. And Cedric Wright's work 
does the same thing. Quite a number of young photographers now do 

*Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. Berkeley: The Archtype Press, 


Adams: very beautiful work in the wilderness in the mountains which is 

much more than factual. And you could take, say, all of Joe Le Conte's 
pictures of the High Sierra, which are very valuable historically, and 
they'd have little impact; they'd just be pictures of places and 
nobody would be moved. Well, he didn't intend that they should be 
"moved." It's no criticism of him; he was a mechanical engineer and 
a scientist. So, his photographs were nil as interpretations; they 
were invaluable records of places that he had explored and mapped. 
The Sierra Nevada meant tremendous things to him. But the element of 
art interpretation just simply didn't interest him. 

Teiser: I was looking at Helen Le Conte's copies of the Sierra Club Bulletin. 
at your earliest photographs and those of a variety of other people, 
and the distinction between why you were taking them and why they 
were taking them is apparent. 

Adams: Well, it's a different point of view. But you see, that's the 

meaning of "photography is a language." Take the English language, 
and you can use it for classified ads and scientific papers and news 
reporting and poems and essays, all forms using the same language. 
So when you say Joe Le Conte's pictures aren't any good because they're 
not creative, you are wrong. What you mean is that they don't stir you 
emotionally and aesthetically, but that wasn't their function. Their 
great importance is as records. 

One of the great problems we have in our Friends of Photography: 
our charter reads that we are to further creative photography. Well 
now somebody comes in who's been over to Africa, and they've got a 
lot of pictures of wildlife, and he thinks they're just something 
wonderful, and he's a member, and he wants to show his pictures. 
Sometimes you can tell him why you can't show them but other times 
you can't. Some people just simply can't understand. They never go 
beyond the subject. Here they have an elephant, and it's a fairly 
good shot of an elephant. But you know, you say, "Well, that's an 
elephant" [laughs], but period! And a lot of people just have no 
idea what you're talking about when you try to explain that you see 
it at a very low level of imagination and a high level of factual 

Well, let's see we have skipped around. 

Teiser: Everything you've discussed brings up more 
Adams: Well, that's fine 
Teiser: questions and thoughts. 


Quality Levels and Portraits 

Teiser: Maybe this is the stupidest question in the world, but I'll ask it 

anyway if I may: when you first started taking photographs seriously, 
who did you think was going to look at them? 

Adams: That's a very good question. I don't know. I must have had an ego, 
because I made a holy pest out of myself, wanting to show everybody 
the pictures. So it might have been an ego motive there. I figure 
that a lot of artists may have that; maybe I still have it. I think 
it was largely to show where I'd been. And then there's always the 
competition among photographers: you like to show them what you're 
doing, and they like to show you what they're doing. 

Imogen Cunningham she's quite an extraordinary person, very 
comprehensive; her world is a very rich one, and a very uneven one. 
In other words, her technique would fluctuate good and bad prints, 
variable, creative. Intensity will do that. But when you stop to 
think of other people, practically all do that. Stieglitz was highly 
selective, and he threw away many things, so that he probably had 
what appeared to be a rather low volume of work. But you don't know 
how many bumps and holes there are in any career. And Strand was the 
same way; he was very selective. Weston wasn't. It's difficult to 
not edit Weston. [Richard, known as Dick] McGraw over here has about 
eight hundred prints (made under Weston' s supervision by his sons 
Brett and Cole) which he's giving to [the University of California at] 
Santa Cruz. And he admits himself that there's two hundred in there 
that are poor photographs, but he feels he should show the whole work. 
Well, I have 27,000 negatives at least in that vault right over there, 
and some are pure junk. I don't know why I'm keeping them. Some have 
great historic value because they were taken in Yosemite and no other 
value at all. Others have narrative value, such as could be used as 
illustrations or even advertisements. And then a certain small 
percentage have aesthetic or creative value, which means it's the 
work you really should present to the world. 

So it's "operation wheelchair" as I call it. It means getting in 
and printing and trying to make the segregation, because otherwise it's 
going to be an awful job for my estate. Because things aren't really 
defined very well. The dating is hopeless and even the titling. 
I have portraits of Thomas Moran, Ina Coolbrith, a fair one of 
Robinson Jeffers, Albert Bender, Edward Weston, Fujita, Phyllis 
Bottome, Bennie Bufano. And some of them are very good photographs. 
A few others are no good at all. The one of Moran is one of the old 
glass plates, completely fouled up by over-exposure and over -developed. 
His white beard is just a glob, and there's nothing in the shadow 
areas of the negative. But that and the Ina Coolbrith picture have a 
certain aesthetic quality. So if you take those two and put them 
together early 1920s, you see they suddenly spring into something 



Teiser ; 





Adams : 


out of logical life. And if you suddenly find those in a contemporary 
collection, you don't know what's happening. It's like finding a 
baby nipple along with a martini shaker. [Laughter] It'd be quite a 

I suppose everything has to be taken in context. Those portraits 
that you were listing then, and some others I remember, I have them 
in my mind. I was looking recently again at the one that you made of 
Carolyn Anspacher years ago that seems to me a portrait that stops 
one person in time. Although I've seen her since, that's my idea of 

Yes, that's one of my best things. A very noble one of [Gottardo] 
Piazzoni the painter on his scaffold. That's one of my finest. 

You don't think of yourself, I suppose, as a portrait photographer. 
But as I think of them the one of Albert Bender 

With the flower? 

Well, I'm not a portraitist in the sense that I don't have a portrait 
studio and haven't done portraits professionally 

Did you do those mainly because they were friends? 

Part of it, yes. I just wanted to photograph them. Let's see 
Colonel [Charles Erskine Scott] Wood, Sara Bard Field, Ernst Bacon. 
Sometimes people have asked for pictures. I did a recent one of 
Sandor Salgo the conductor here a Hungarian. They wanted me to 
make a donation to the [Cannel] Bach Festival, and so I donated the 
portrait. And it came out quite beautifully. And that's the way 
these things emerge. But I mean I never had a portrait studio as 
such, because I couldn't imagine anything more difficult or uncertain 
than trying to do portraits of random people. You don't have a 
chance to know them. I don't want to be the Bachrach of the Monterey 
Peninsula. [Laughter] 

Edward [Weston] made his living largely with portraits, 
were very effective. But I don't think it was his best work. 
his picture of Albert Bender is superb. 

I don't remember that. 

Well, that's a good human image, but not a great photograph. 



Albert Bender 

Teiser: You were going to speak about Albert Bender. 

Adams: That's very complicated. I met him first at Cedric Wright's home 
in Berkeley. Let's see, it was a musical evening, but Cedric said, 
"Show Albert Bender some of your mountain pictures." Albert was very 
much impressed and said, "Come and see me tomorrow morning, and bring 
some prints." Well, I showed him some work and he said, "We have to 
do a portfolio of these." It was the furthest from my thoughts. I 
was still trying to be a pianist. So I said, "Let me think about it." 

In two or three days I went down there again in the morning with 
a big bunch. He selected a number and he said, "Grabhorn will print 
it. And Jean Chambers Moore says she'll publish it, and now we've 
got to sell some copies. So how much is it going to cost?" So we 
had to figure that out, and it cost quite a little, as all such 
things do. I never counted my work in it; that's the way you do 
these things. So he started off with five copies. Now, they were 
one hundred dollars apiece, I think, which was high for those days. 

Then he calls up Mrs. [Sigmund] Stern. "Top of the morning, 
Rosie. How are you? Well, I've got a man in my office, and he's 
got some pictures and we're going to do a portfolio, and starting it 
off," he says, "I'm taking five hundred dollars." 

She says, "Well, Albert, put me down for $750." "Thanks, Rosie, 
that's fine." Then he calls Cora [Mrs. Marcus] Koshland. "Top of 
the morning to you, Cora." Describes what he's going to do with the 
portfolio "I've put in five hundred dollars and Rosie put in $750" 
Rosalie and she says, "Put me down for five hundred dollars, Albert. 
I'd like to have the work." And in just about two hours' time on the 
telephone, he'd sold much more than the cost of the portfolio.* 

He wasn't a rich man; he was well-to-do. He had a good 
insurance business. And of course he was a bachelor. And he just 
gave away a tremendous amount of things and money. But mostly in 
small parcels. He never gave really large amounts he didn't have it. 
But some artist would come and show him some pictures, and Albert 
would buy one, give him a hundred-dollar check and spend an hour or 
so on the telephone getting contacts for him. It was that kind of 
true philanthropy. I mean, he just didn't write checks, he really 
helped people. He was the most generous man, by fifty times, of 
anybody else I've ever known. 

*Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras. San Francisco: Jean 
Chambers Moore, 1927. See also other references as indexed. 


Adams: So it was this kind of patronage that really got me started. And 

even during the Depression times, there was always something to do. 
I did a catalogue for the de Young Memorial Museum. Bender had a 
group of very handsome Chinese carvings, and we made a portfolio of 
that for Mills College. I don't remember the circumstances, but I 
think there were ten or twenty images in each set and they sold for 
several hundred dollars apiece, and the proceeds then enabled him to 
buy these marbles for the college. So, many things were done on that 
basis: I'd get a fee for the job, then he would sell four or five 
copies, and the difference would allow things to happen. 


Teiser: Those were the first photographs on specific commissions? 

Adams: Some, yes. Now, I did the Maurice Sterne paintings for the Department 
of Justice Building. He painted them in San Francisco, and I did 
them at his studio at the California School of Fine Arts. It was 
terribly hard getting even light on them because they were very big. 
And I have a beautiful portfolio of that. I did Coloramas for Kodak 
[i.e., Eastman] big things to be shown in Grand Central Station. 
And I did let's see, Fortune magazine, general advertising commissions, 
and then worked for the Yosemite people. Later on, projects would come 
up like Timber Cove. And I did a whole series of pictures of Laguna 
Niguel. They said they wanted to have these pictures to guide the 
development. They absolutely ruined the place; it didn't guide the 
development at all I 

Then I did an enormous series of pictures for the University of 
California of the Santa Cruz campus before there was anything 
developed there. And that was very valuable because the architects 
could see what certain areas on the map looked like. 

Teiser: I wonder if those photographs didn't have something to do with setting 
the tone of that whole campus as it is now? 

Adams: Well, put it this way: it's only half what we wanted. The architec 
ture is, I think, sad. Better if it had been something like Foothill 
College. They should have really gone to the Maybeck feeling, where 
you'd have a blending of the buildings and of the out-of-doors. But 
Crown College is like a suburban housing project. Stevenson College 
looks like pictures I've seen of "British Bauhaus." Very tight 
little buildings. I don't know any one that really is appropriate. 
And College Five is done by Hugh Stubbins who lives in New York. 
It's just hideous. I mean it's an imposition right on the landscape. 
Here's one of the grandest groves of redwoods standing alone anywhere, 
and there's absolutely no consideration for it. They crowded it with 
a wall. It's really "brutalesque." 


Teiser : 
Adams : 


I think I was speaking not alone of the physical development of the 
buildings but of the whole spirit of the campus. 

Adams : 

Yes, that was the idea, 
in the main. 

We tried to keep the meadows, and succeeded 

The students have seen those photographs, haven't they? 

Oh yes. I have students calling me up and wanting me to protest 
against something that's going in. 

Tommy [Thomas D.] Church and I did the definitive paper on 
style the photographs were part of that what the University could 
represent in terms of style in relation to the natural environment. 
And I just got a letter the other day saying that was still the 
guiding light although sometimes it was very difficult. This 
present hideous [state] administration is really very negative to 
that college idea. They want a college right in the middle of the 
city in one unit. They think Santa Cruz is very "extravagant." 
Well, I don't think it has cost any more, and it certainly has a 
tremendous effect on students. But the plans you can't afford to 
have the expensive plans. So they're allowed so much square foot 
cost, and the architects have an awful job getting these things to 

Now, these bedrooms in Stevenson College are the worst planned 
things you've ever seen. I mean, you can hardly get into the closet 
door, around the bed, because it's so small. One foot more, but 
They planned a little lintel over the entrance doorway; it had to 
come out. They had some decoration, molding; that had to come out. 
The Finance Committee of the Legislature, or State Senate, just 
slashes the "amenities" out. They have no architectural advisors 
on what can stay or go. So instead of having that little extra 
something for style, it's up to the architect to do what they did 
at the Bodega Marine Laboratory; the building is of prestressed 
concrete, molded into beautiful designs. The building is a very 
attractive thing although it's nothing but big columns of concrete. 
But of course, they could afford to mold them into agreeable shapes, 
if no ornament was added. 

I did a book on the University of Rochester. 
What was that? 

A book on the university called Creative Change; it's a brochure. 
And then I did a book for the Bishop National Bank of Hawaii, The 
Islands of Hawaii; did that one after the one for the American 
Trust Company. You remember that book The Pageant of History in 
Northern California. "Well, then the Bishop Bank wanted me to do 
the Hawaiian one. 


Adams: Then I did some work for IBM 
Teiser: What sort of work for IBM? 

Adams: Oh, I just made a series to interpret the activities at the 

Poughkeepsie plant. It's a very ugly, modern, beautifully functional 
plant, and some of the things in it are very exciting. That picture 
on the wall, of the transistor, is one; it's all out-dated now. It's 
a computer world. So I got by fine there. 

Then of course the big centennial project for the University of 
California with Nancy Newhall [Fiat Lux] , and I'm sure I can think up 
other things as I go along. 

Albert Bender and His Friends 

Teiser: Let's go back to Albert Bender. We were interested in Mrs. Newhall 's 
description in The Eloquent Light of your first trip to New Mexico 
with him. And who was Bertha Damon? 

Adams: Well, Bertha Clark, who married Arthur Pope. She was quite a 

literary person, a very fine writer, and a great friend of Witter 
Bynner and Arthur Davidson Ficke. So we all went down there, you 
see, and met Ella Young. Of course, she and Bender always hit it 
off in fine form, because I think they had worked together in the 
University of California at Berkeley before World War I. Let's see, 
she's about eighty now. 

Teiser: This trip was in 1927, wasn't it? 

Adams: Yes. We met Ella Young and Marie Welch. And then Bertha and 

Arthur Pope separated, and he married Phyllis Ackerman the authority 
on textiles and she married Professor Damon of Brown University and 
lived in the East, and apparently did very well in real estate, 
developed areas with style. She did that earlier at Point Richmond 
out here. Beautiful houses. She's still living, and she's a good 
friend of Ernst Bacon who's here now, staying with us. (He lives in 

So then we met Mary Austin, too, down there. 

Teiser: Oh yes. That brings up another subject, but let's stick with 
Albert Bender. 

Adams: I would take Albert he didn't drive on innumerable trips. We'd 
come down here to Monterey and Carmel every so often, and see all 


Adams: the friends Robinson Jeffers and Johnny O'Shea and Kriley a kind 
of a circuit. Albert liked nature, as a Christmas tree with human 
ornaments on it. He didn't care much for the natural scene; he just 
liked fresh air and people, which is wonderful. 

Then we'd go over often to Mills College with the back of the 
car laden with books and things, maybe some Chinese things he'd 
gotten. We went to Yosemite, and I can't tell you how many trips 
in all. He'd call me up and say, "Well, Dr. Adams, are you free 
today?" Sometimes I wasn't, but I would certainly make an effort 
to be. And we'd get in the old car and go out. Knew somebody at 
Napa writers and knew somebody at College of the Pacific over in 
Stockton. We'd drive over and see these people and go and see 
printers. And then people would come. He'd entertain. He was a 
great friend of Ruth St. Denis. And I remember we drove to Los 
Angeles to hear the San Francisco Symphony, and Ruth St. Denis's 
group danced with it, and we took her down she and Ted Shawn. We 
drove down to Los Angeles. 

I'll never forget that day. We went to an apartment for 
dinner Mrs. Guggenheim of the Guggenheim family. And this was a 
whole floor in one of these Hollywood buildings, and it was very 
elaborate wow! She had gorgeous things in it. She said, "Of 
course, you'll leave your car here and we'll go over in mine 
because it's so difficult parking and my people can handle it much 
easier." So that was fine. 

So after this very elaborate dinner we go downstairs and here's 
a great big Rolls Royce, really custom-made; everything you can 
think of a huge thing. And a chauffeur and a footman. So we get 
into this thing. Oh, it was beautiful, and these little cabinets! 
I said, "Do you drive this car from New York every year?" (Because 
she spent winters in New York.) "Oh no," she said, "I have the 
exact duplicate of it back there." [Laughter] Albert Bender was 
horrified, shaking his head. He always thought such great affluence 
was rather silly. Mrs. Stern entertained beautifully and was always 
doing something for people, but very seldom if ever would have just 
a stupid social party. It would be a dinner for somebody like Diego 
Rivera. And when she put on a dinner, there was probably none 
better. Just great style. 

And Albert Bender would have entertainment, but he didn't 
drink. He was an Irish Jew. His father was a rabbi and his mother 
was an Irish woman. And he came over as a boy and worked in his 
cousin's insurance business. But he never drank I don't know 
whether he didn't like it or why. But he always had liquor in his 


Adams: He had an old lady housekeeper who didn't know anything about it 
all. She'd cook him this disgusting-looking plate of scrambled 
eggs for dinner. He'd come home after a big day and there 'd be 
two pieces of toast and scrambled eggs. When he had a dinner, he'd 
get somebody in. But he would have parties, and she would have 
scotch and ginger ale and no ice. She'd always forget the ice. 
[Laughter] So his friends gradually learned and they'd bring some 
ice,, you know, and put it in a bowl. But she knew so little, she 
thought ginger ale and soda were the same! Of all the horrible 
concoctions in the world, it was that. So there were these funny 
little lapses. 

That Tibetan scroll was his he eventually left that to us. 
Teiser: Oh, hanging there. 
Adams: Yes, that's handsome. 

Teiser: Very. He served a function apparently in bringing artists of all 
ages and kinds together. 

Adams: Yes. And he was very important in the creative printing world. 

Teiser: You said he got the Grabhorns to print the text of your first 

Adams: Yes. But when it came to the Taos book [Taos Pueblo] , he asked 

Nash to do it, and I had a preliminary talk with Nash.* He was going 
to cover the inside with Spanish parchment sheets. He had a whole 
lot of Spanish parchment sheets music sheets. And I said, "Dr. 
Nash, this book has nothing to do with Gregorian music; this is 
Indian Pueblos Southwest." And he said, "Pueblo Pueblo's 
Spanish, isn't it?" [Laughter] I went back to Albert and I said, 
"It's impossible. He wants to do something that's just impossible!" 
He was an ass, I must admit really stupid. I said, "Can't we get 
Grabhorn to do it?" So Grabhorn completed it, with the paper all 
made to order. Half of it was coated by Dassonville, on which I 
made the prints, and the rest of it went into the text which 
Grabhorn printed. But Grabhorn didn't have that big a press, so 
he printed the four-page sheets (two to a side) one page at a time. 
Hazel Dreis was doing the binding, but the columns did not line up, 
and they couldn't be bound. I mean if she kept on folding, the 
columns would tilt further and further apart. There was no way of 
making the fold parallel. A very complicated thing. So that was a 
terrible blow. We just had enough paper left to print it properly. 

*John Henry Nash. 


Adams: But Grabhorn* would say, "You're crazy; it's printed perfectly." 
And they were beautiful pages to look at! 

Albert Bender had come to Grabhorn 's studio. And Hazel laid 
them out and got a ruler and a T-square. She said, "All right, now, 
Grabhorn, is that straight or isn't it?" "Well, it is off, I guess. 
Yes. We'll have to do it over." Well, what are you going to do 
when you've got a special run of paper? There was just enough paper 
to do it. I don't think there were six signatures left over.** 

Then she wanted a special grain leather and she just ordered 
it and never asked the price. It arrives, through customs from 
Algeria or somewhere, and there's $480 due on it. I didn't have 
eighty dollars. Who pays it? Albert Bender. So I tried to pay 
Albert back. I went and worked and things, but he was never he 
always said, "Well, you just do your work. That's all the payment 
I want." He didn't consider me a business investment. [Laughter] 
And he was very, very kind. So he did give me the entree to a 
whole stratum of society and cultural level in San Francisco I 
never would have had otherwise. 

Cedric Wright 

Harroun: You said when you met him at Cedric Wright's that you were still in 
the field of music? 

Adams: Yes, I was still an active pianist. 
Harroun: Was this a turning point then? 

Adams: Well, yes. This was almost it really was the turning point, but 
I didn't know it. I tried to practice and keep up everything else 
too until 1930. Well, there's a very hazy point there, because 
even in 1932 I was doing accompaniments, and photography. And then 
it just came to the point that I couldn't do both. 

*By correspondence: 

Teiser: When you talk about Grabhorn, you mean Ed, don't you? 

You didn't deal with Bob [Robert], did you? 

Adams: Dealings were usually with Ed, but I knew Bob quite 

**See also other references to Taos Pueblo as indexed. 


Adams: Cedric Wright, a violinist, was an old friend. He was the son of 
my father's lawyer. My father's lawyer was not very ethical, 
unfortunately, but Cedric was one of my dearest friends. I met 
him first in 1923 on a Sierra Club outing, and then we'd see him 
often, and he liked the way I played and I liked the way he played. 
He made some photographs too, and pretty soon he switched over, 
because he had a fairly large personal income. He never had to do 
anything, which seems always a curse. I will say he was very 
diligent. But at an ego level I mean he just had to do these 
mountain pictures. He was very anxious always to get them out and 
to get applause. He wasn't a very good violinist. His first wife 
was a much better one, and I guess that's one of the reasons why 
they split, because she was obviously a very superior musician. 
He could have been a grand pianist he had great big "piano" hands. 
But, he tried to get quality out of his fiddle, and the intonation 
wouldn't be ideal. But he had a very fine musical spirit. I mean, 
he could really bring things to life, like Ernst Bacon. 

So that was my friendship there, and then he got into doing 
more and more portraits; finally did chiefly portrait work, except 
for his summer work in the mountains, and he did very well. And 
then he got older and more difficult and married a lady who really 
didn't help too much and had two kids who were difficult one was 
very difficult, the other was all right. So he developed high 
blood pressure and had a terrible doctor, and they didn't take care 
of it, and he went a little off his bat. He had this kind of 
paranoia about education and public schools. He'd write reams of 
expository texts. When he finished this book, it was a foot thick. 
I said, "Well, you've got to have it edited. You can't print this." 
I said, "Get Nancy Newhall to do it." She boiled it down to some 
really very good writing. But he wouldn't accept that at all. He 
thought she was missing all the important points. I don't know 
what's happened to the text of the thing. It had some very fine 
passages in it kind of Thoreau-esque. But otherwise just as 
screwy as you can get. 

And then he finally had a stroke and never really recovered. 

Teiser: Helen Le Conte was speaking of him, saying he was a genius without 
a field to express it. 

Adams: Yes, that's good. He had the genius tendency, but he never 

realized it. I think music was right; he was very happy in it. 
But he picked the one instrument that his physique wasn't favorable 


Musicians and Artists 

Adams: Now, in a sense I've got a lovely violin hand. My fingers are very 
strong and light very small. But I'm a pianist, see. I could 
never get the power, the richness somebody like Ernst Bacon can get, 
or my late friend Victor Babin. I suppose I'd have been an ideal 
harpsichordist. It's a very important thing we don't think of 
those things often but I didn't have the ear for the strings. I 
have beautiful relative pitch but absolutely n absolute pitch. 

Teiser: I suppose it was hard to break away from the piano. People had 
encouraged you in it. 

Adams: I could I still can, if you'll pardon the conceit produce a very 
beautiful tone. I was trained in tone control and voicing. I 
still amaze myself at times by the sculptural effect, which was my 
basic training. It was largely impact control, and of course the 
arthritis has knocked that. But it's interesting that there is a 
legato and there is an impact. You can especially hear it in 
fugues; I can really make the voices completely stand out, which is 
much more difficult with "weight" playing, to give the full color. 
The impact, touch I had that, and it's really stayed with me all 
these years. I mean I play terribly now inaccurately but it's 
just interesting how lasting the training you sometimes get can be. 
And so, up to that point, I could have gone on and I could have been 
very fine in a very limited field, but when it came to doing the 
greater Beethoven and Brahms and the heroic Scriabin things, why 
my fingers couldn't manage them. 

Teiser: Did you realize that? Was that part of your decision? 

Adams: I began to realize just part of it. But people encouraged me and 
said, "No, don't worry about that. Think of Laurie [Lawrence] 
Strauss." You remember him. Tenor. He sang French and German 
lieder and had a very meager voice, but such style you wouldn't 
believe. You still remember him. And the question is, what is 
music? This man could create he was simply wonderful. It was 
something like [Vladimir] de Pachmann. I don't think de Pachmann 
ever played anything very massive beyond Chopin. Farthest I got 
with Scriabin that I could play was the C-sharp minor etude and 
that really taxed me. I really didn't have it in my hands to do 

V. Adams: [Entering] How're you doing? 
Adams: Pretty good I 



Adams : 

Adams : 


Adams : 


Then of course I was very close to Sara Bard Field and Colonel 
Wood Charles Erskine Scott Wood. 

How did you meet them? 

With Albert early, 1927 or '28. And of course I met Bennie Bufano. 

Did all of these people in the other arts add to your creative 
vision or whatever? 

Oh yes, very much. Very definitely. Not that I imitated. You 
couldn't do that with them. But you just had a support of your 
convictions. I mean, here are people creating beauty in other 
ways Maynard Dixon, Dorothea Lange, Robert Howard, the Puccinellis- 
oh gosh, I can't remember all the people. 

That's Raymond Puccinelli? 

Yes. I know very few of the contemporary artists. 

Of these artists, I don't suppose you admired all of their work? 

No no. Some more than others. Bufano' s drawings were simply 
magnificent; some of his sculpture was pretty corny. Sara Bard 
Field's poetry was better than the Colonel's. [Ralph] Stackpole, 
I think, is a fine sculptor; beautiful massive work. Ray Boynton 
did an encaustic for the Woods, which was absolutely beautiful, 
more so than his paintings. 

For the Woods at their home? 

Their home. An outdoor mantel. But they had not sealed the stone 
and the water came through and it flaked. 

And Maynard Dixon was a great man, a character. (I don't 
know. You can't really remember all these things.) Piazzoni was 
a great stylist; very quiet. I think I like his paintings better 
even now than I did then. They looked flat to me. 

Did you like some of Maynard Dixon 's work? 

I liked his drawings much better than his paintings, 


Oh, and then another contact which was very valuable to me 
was William Zorach, the painter, and his wife, Marguerite. We have 
two Zorachs downstairs, one by him, one by his wife, watercolors in 
Yosemite. He was there one whole summer and went on trips. He was 
really marvelous a creative thinker. 


Adams: And then of course Diego Rivera and [Jose C.] Orozco. And many of 
the printers. [Interruption to discuss a photograph with Adams's 
assistant. ] 

Arnold Blanch, the painter; Maurice Sterne. 
Teiser: Did you talk about aesthetics with these people? 

Adams: No. When you're in the art world you don't talk about aesthetics; 

you just talk. The aesthetics are a by-product. They'll talk about 
their experiences, they'll talk about their style. They'll see 
something in your photograph that they like. You don't think about 
it in terms of aesthetics as such, you see. And it's interesting, 
when photographers get together they talk about papers, lenses, 
chemicals, cameras very seldom about the pictures. When painters 
get together, they talk about painting and very seldom about paints 
or paint brushes. When musicians get together, they talk about 
other musicians. [Laughter] They'll say, "Oh my, Rosenthal, you 
know, he did that Beethoven all right. But Horowitz somebody else 
Backhaus " and before you know it, they're talking about "when I 
was concertmaster at such and such." 

You know the famous story about Mischa Elman, who was talking 
to this young girl at a dinner, a beautiful young lady, and he was 
describing all of his career coming to this country, and his tours. 
He could see she was getting a little bit restless, so he said, "Oh, 
my dear, I'm so sorry, I'm boring you. I'm talking about nothing 
but myself, and that is too much. Now let us talk about you. How 
did you like my last concert?" [Laughter] 

[End Tape 4, Side 1] 
[Begin Tape 4, Side 2] 

Adams: Through Cedric I knew Richard Buhlig. He was quite a pianist, but 
he had the most colossal conceit I've ever seen. He said, "After 
all, you can count the great pi-ah-nists of the world on one finguh." 

I met him one time in San Francisco, and it was a very gray, 
foggy day, and he was exhausted, and I was going to take him on the 
streetcar out to my house for supper. He sat there in the streetcar 
in a very dejected way, so I kept talking. I figured I just can't 
sit there like a dummy too. So I talked and talked about the 
symphony and other things. 

So we came home to the house, and he sat down in this chair 
and took off his necktie and said, "Let us have silence, blessed 
silence. You talk a very great deal and say ab-so-lutely nothing." 
[Laughter] So that was a helpful influence. I've been thinking 


Adams: about that; always have, you know. I just pattered along, trying 
to keep him going a gesture. 

Ernst Bacon came on the scene early. And Ernst was a very 
fine pianist very well trained; great ladies' man, marvelous 
person. (I hope he can hear me.) And he would play well, he was 
typical of a certain type, a kind of spectacular, ruthless playing, 
you see, which overshadowed anybody else around. I couldn't play 
when he was around because I played a totally different way. We 
had a period there, a kind of first jealousy, I think. I was more 
jealous of him, because whenever Ernst appeared, he was the magnet, 
you see. Well, the thing that saved that situation was that he was 
such an extremely fine musician. And he can still play a Bach- 
Busoni chaconne like you never heard. So after the first couple of 
years and adjustment, why, we became extremely close friends. 
Mutual admiration society, but at the same time it was the first 
time I'd come across this very gentlemanly but very aggressive 
personality. That was another kind of competition. 

My competition was always if I felt it, well, I do the best 
I can and that's that. But sometimes wow! it's like having a 
show in a museum and in the next gallery there's somebody who has 
nothing but three by four-foot prints. They might be lousy, but 
they still would be impressive. [Laughter] Perhaps superficial. 

But Ernst is one of the best we've got, and a great composer. 
He's never been recognized. He never makes any real bid for fame, 
but I think his set of songs to Emily Dickinson poems is probably 
one of the greatest American works just incredibly beautiful. He 
still belongs to a generation that had "something to say." The 
contemporary music to me seems to be almost mathematical efforts to 
experiment with new symbols and sequences and combinations. You 
get through with it and you think, "Clever, isn't it?" 

I remember hearing one I think it was in Boston. I was at a 
friend's house, listening to the radio, and they couldn't wait to 
hear this thing, and there was percussion and strings and two 
trumpets and jew's-harp some combination. And you know in the 
cartoon "Peanuts" the bird that's talking to the dog? It's just a 
genius flight of imagination to get this conversation of the little 
bird; it's nothing but a series of little dots, you know. That's 
what that music sounded like rumble, rumble, rumble, squeak. Then 
a pause. Then somebody taps seven times with a bow. Then there's 
a tremendous, cacophonous, dissonant chord with more rumbles, then 
more squeaks. They then showed me the score of this, which wasn't 
written like any music I'd seen before. There were no bars, and 
all these strange symbols. We got all through it, and I said, "Well, 
what happens to you when you hear that?" "Perfectly wonderful." 
"Well," I said, "what happens? It is clever, but I didn't" Well, 


Adams: they really couldn't describe an emotional experience; it was an 

intellectual experience, and therefore it was aesthetic. But you've 
got to make definitions between intellectual, aesthetic, and 
emotional. And great art has all of it together, and a lot of the 
contemporary stuff.... 

Cults, Controls and Creativity 

Adams: And in painting, huge paintings may be just intellectual exercises, 
and I think people respond because such response is indicated in 
the social structure. To be in (quote) "i-n" you create certain 
things, like certain things. It's a multi-cult. 

That same thing happens in business methods. The thing in 
business now, and in industry well, Dr. Land worked very hard to 
establish what he called "peer consciousness." Everybody in the 
[Polaroid] company that would be, say, at the level of the 
engineers, there wouldn't be a top engineer or a bottom engineer; 
there would be sort of a group of peers, which means you're equals 
in that field. He didn't like the idea of them electing a chairman. 
They'd have a secretary who'd just call the meetings, and they'd 
appoint a chairman for the evening. They'd discuss it. And they 
got by like that for a while. But it worked better with the 
custodians and machine operators than it did with the intellectuals. 
After about a year they had a chairman and a vice-chairman all 
that rigamarole. Became a society. 

Teiser: We sometimes think of societies as something that people who have 
little create for themselves. 

Adams: Well, I went to this big conference the other day the Society of 

Photographic Scientists and Engineers. There's about three thousand 
members, and they're all the top people in the optical and physical 
and chemical laboratories. And there were about six hundred at 
conference. They were a little disappointed in the turnout, but 
they're expensive. And they said they never had better papers, but 
the papers were, to me, incomprehensible. But I felt very much "in", 
you see, that's the interesting thing. I had a lot of friends. That 
was pleasant. I was just in contact with a world which I know is 
important and which is really back of my profession and the materials 
1 use. But I don't really understand that world at all. 

Teiser: Did you speak to them? 

Adams: No, not this time. I did before once. 


Teiser: When you speak to them, what do you speak about? 

Adams: Well, I was asked to inject the creative point of view, refer it to 

the materials, how research has helped or hindered certain materials. 
My talk was on the obvious development of the films and the papers 
and chemicals; their consistency is perfectly wonderful. And then 
the tendency toward automatism in the cameras, which has just the 
opposite effect. I mean it discourages creativity, you see. 

That trouble is coming up in films now; they're making things 
that are foolproof. In other words, they say they're foolproof and 
a person can't make a mistake, but it means that you can't control. 
Control is the whole essence of art. They are control-proof! So 
it's conceivable to think that you can have I know there are films 
made that have an exposure range of one to fifteen, and the film 
will automatically carry it. It'll almost always come out in one 
limited scale. And that would be disastrous. It's just like if a 
paint company said, "I'll put out twelve colors, period." [Laughter] 

O'Keeffe feels that. She grinds her own pigment. A lot of the 
paintings in New Mexico are done from the stones she's just picked 
up in the desert. She gets the kind of thing she wants directly 
and perceptively I 

Teiser: You can't do that with photographic materials. 

Adams: No. No, you can't. But you still can control. I can under-expose, 
use less exposure and more developer, and increase my scale and 
texture. But the modern films only allow one-zone expansion. I 
keep thinking in my mind I'll go on to another paper. There are 
only two films made by Kodak that have the old thick emulsion, and 
that will "expand" in prolonged development two or three times. 
Now some printing papers are given new synthetic emulsions, and 
they "dry down" distressingly. In other words, the print will look 
perfectly beautiful in the wash water, but you can't use it when 
it's dry. So there's always this problem of having to print light, 
to print unpleasantly light, and then it'll dry down. Then finally 
you learn just about how deep to print. But in the old days, you 
could put the print up on a white thing, and it would look that way 
when it was dry. 

Now there's one paper called Varilour, that is just impossible. 
It isn't just a matter of tone. A white surface goes gray. The 
first time I had that happen to me was with a print in a portfolio, 
of the little Hornitos church. It's got very subtle clapboards 
showing. It's a white church but you barely see the little 
clapboards. And I made the print so you just saw them, and I 
thought, "Gee, that's beautiful!" I knew it was going to dry down 
hopefully just a little so I went ahead and made the whole hundred 


Adams: prints. Had to throw them all away. The white went down gray, you 
see. So then I had to start the next day and make a whole series of 
exposures and develop them and put the exposure time, etc., control 
on the back. And the one that I chose, which showed the clapboard 
beautifully in the dried print, absolutely did not show it in the 
wet print. 

The point is, as the emulsion swells, the silver grains 
separate like an expanding universe. And then the light penetrates 
does not have opposition. And then as the emulsion dries, it brings 
the silver together and you see it. 

Teiser: European papers have stayed pretty much the same, have they? 

Adams: No. They're changing too. Agfa Brovira is probably the most 

brilliant, Ilford is fine I don't always like the surfaces. None 
of them are as consistent as Kodak. 

Prints; Tangible and Intangible Aspects 

Adams: It's an interesting thing the thing we have to think about is: what 
do you experience when you see a print? That is, what is a print? 
There's a whole series of grays, from black to white and grays in 
between. Well, if you strip the emulsion off a print, which you could 
do, it's a very soft image (if you look at it as a transparency). 
And you wonder, "Well, how in the world could I get a good print out 
of that? Isn't there some silver left on the paper?" No. The idea 
is that the paper reflects 90 percent of the light falling upon it, 
and you may have a 50 percent layer of silver in one part of the 
image. Now, say a hundred units of light strikes the surface of the 
print. Fifty percent gets through the silver and reaches the paper 
(the background), and 50 percent is reflected by the paper (which 
only reflects 90 percent). So 45 percent of that light is reflected 
back through the 50 percent silver, which reduces it to 22 1/2 
percent. So then you have that value which would be known as a 
22 1/2 percent reflection density, 0.75. And that is why, you see, 
printing is a very subtle thing, because the heavier the silver 
deposit, the deeper and deeper the tone. And finally, with toning 
I can get with selenium down to the reflection density of 2.3, which 
is 1 to 200, speaking roughly. But visually it would be awfully 
hard to tell the difference between a density of 2.0 or 2.2 or 2.3; 
you'd have to have a bright light and put them right together. 

The Polaroid is a different process and has what is called the 
"linear scale." Your ordinary paper scales have the sine-curve 
shape, the "S-curve," the positive curve. Now the part of that 
scale which is most accurate or at least in proportion, is what they 


Adams: call the straight-line section. But the whites and the blacks belong 
in the toe and the shoulder, and they are disproportionate. They can 
cause you all kinds of aesthetic upsets, even though you can't 
describe it; you can't be fully aware of it, but it's there. The 
Polaroid has a long straight-line scale, so the mind unconsciously 
sees in the Polaroid print a progression of values which seems much 
more agreeable. 

Look at that picture over there, the marble head and the leaf 
see it on the wall? I can't make a print like that with a conven 
tional paper. I've got a good negative of it, as well as a Polaroid 
print. I can't make as good a print. I can't get that luminosity, 
because in the areas that are most subtle I can't get the 
proportionate scale. In that and the auto-masking process, which 
is equivalent to the old printing in sunlight, you do have a 
continuous line. It's not an obvious sine-curve shape. 

There's an article out now trying to rationalize and put it 
almost on a computer basis. What is the character of Mozart, or 
Beethoven, or Schubert? What do you get looking at certain painters? 
And they've made these tests certain responses on a pressure basis. 
Very complicated thing, and it just draws a curve. They give me a 
test, perhaps, and I would respond to certain things, and they'd put 
that curve on file, and take your test. And the strange thing is 
that they've found that it doesn't make any difference who you are; 
your curve in response to Mozart is typical, and it's quite different 
from your curve in response to Beethoven. The response is not 
basically individual; there's something in the aesthetics, something 
in the music pattern that controls it. And the same with the 
photograph. Why do you look at one print by a sensitive printer and 
the same subject printed by a good but unimaginative darkroom man, 
a technician, and respond differently? The difference might be such 
you'd think it was not the same picture. And yet if you put it in 
the reflection densitometer, you might get almost the same scale. 
It's a very subtle thing. So that's part of my approach in teaching, 
and it is going to be more so in writing now. It's a kind of a 
summation of experience. But to make it highly valid, I really 
should work through a scientist. If I'm going to talk about values 
in any way, I ought to double check, you see, so I'm just not 
transcribing my own symbols. It would have to be something that's 

Teiser: Well, you mean you have to translate subjective judgments into 

Adams: Have to do it some way, because if I talk about a print like this 
print of Half Dome ["Moon and Half Dome"], this big one I must say 
that I can make it in varying ways. If I go light to a certain 
point, it becomes weak, so I tear it up. If I go dark to a certain 


Adams: point, it becomes hard and heavy, so I tear it up. But in between 
is quite a range of difference, and some levels are acceptable. 
Now, what is that range? It's the intangible thing that makes it 
art instead of record. 

Teiser: When we were speaking with Mr. and Mrs. Spencer* last week, 1 asked, 
"Do you think Mr. Adams's work has changed over the years you've 
known him?" Mr. Spencer said, yes, he thought a little, in that the 
line had become sharper. And he was showing us a print of Half Dome 
with the moon that same photograph as an example of what he 
thought your work had come to. He admired it greatly. And he 
seemed to think that you would not have made that photograph in that 
way earlier. 

Adams: He's right. He's an extremely perceptive man both of them can 

really talk intelligently about aesthetics. It's a very rare thing 
and they are rare people. They can -talk and analyze things in the 
most extraordinary way, rather impersonal and very delicate. Of 
course, she's a great expert in stained glass antique glass one of 
the top people. And to have her talk about these significant slight 
differences. And it isn't just a matter of different glass, it's 
just that intangible multiple quality of color and value. They're 
always amazed that I like Rouault, because most of Rouault's work is 
related to the stained glass appearance, you know, with the black 
separating lines. I never thought of it that way, you see. I just 
liked these beautiful blocks of color. And, Mrs. Spencer said, 
"Well, do you know that Rouault's paintings superficially look like 
stained glass." And it suddenly occurred to me, "My gosh, they do, 
don't they?" They do and they don't, but they do enough so you can 
think of it. 

And then, what is the function of glass? Why all these little 
shapes? Then you take a flow of glass, of shape, and you see that 
each one of these shapes has a dynamic relationship to the next one, 
and that will lift your eyes move your eyes. It's a very subtle 
thing. You just don't put about random globs of glass. The shapes 
are all felt like mosaics. Gerry Sharpe, who was quite a fine 
photographer she unfortunately died early she worked for us for 
quite a while and she did that mosaic table, which is an extremely 
sensitive thing. I forget who she worked with Louisa Jenkins or 
somebody. That's the first and only one she did. But there are 
very subtle juxtapositions of shapes and values therein. They flow. 
It's very hard to describe. 

In photography, if I can say it, I think my work has that flow, 
and I think that's what makes it have a certain appeal. It's what 
all creative photographers must have, because people do respond to 
more than fact. And I guess I really sell more prints than anyone, 
and sell them to a quite varied audience. So I know there's a 
response somewhere. Weston didn't sell too much while alive; he 

*Eldridge T. and Jeanette Dyer Spencer. 


Adams: surely sells now. People are paying fantastic prices for remaining 
prints that appear every once in a while. But he sold to a rather 
limited audience, and didn't sell very many. Some people with means 
would buy a hundred prints for a collection of an art gallery or a 
museum. And that was fine; it would keep him going. But the 
individual prints were not acquired as they should have been. 

Now, of course, I think all the time, probably a lot of my 
pictures are sold because of the subject. But it's the subject plus. 
A literal picture of the moon and Half Dome would almost have to be 
very unpleasant. "Gee, there's the moon, Bud, look!" [Laughs] That's 
about the end of it. 

Teiser: Do you know we've kept you talking for two hours? 

Adams: Yes. I've got to go to a party, then out to dinner. I am a little 
bit thought out. 

[End Tape 4, Side 2] 


[Interview IV 19 May 1972] 
[Begin Tape 5, Side 1] 

The Group f/64 Exhibit 

Adams: This time you wanted more f/64. 

Teiser: Well, yes. We'll probably keep coming back to things you've mentioned 
and ask you more about them. The f/64 group I'm sure you're sick to 
death of being asked about it. 

Adams: No, no. 

Teiser: We ran down two articles; one of them is just a notice. Shall I 
read them to you? 

Adams : Yes . 

Teiser: From the San Francisco Chronicle, an unsigned article of November 27, 
1932 the end of a review of an exhibit of paintings. 

"Another new exhibit at the de Young Museum 
comprises photographs by members and guests of the 
Group f/64. There is a beautiful work on view" 
(that is a typo, I guess) "although the promise 
of novelty suggested in the name of the organiza 
tion that sponsors the exhibition is not carried 

Adams: I don't understand what they mean by that. 

Teiser: [Continuing] "These photographers, like other talented 
brethren of the lens, are admirable portrait 
artists, imaginative creators of abstract patterns, 
romanticists who look for charm in boats, in 
scenery, in grand landscape, and in every small 
growing thing that is nourished at the bottom of 
Mother Earth. 

"Exhibitors include--" 

Adams: Well, that's more favorable than a lot we had. [Laughter] It's 
funny. I don't remember that at all. 

They didn't know how to write about photography then, you know. 
Just didn't know what to say. They thought some photography was 


Adams: imitating abstract art. I don't call it "abstract;" I call it 

"extract." A photograph is an extract, unless you go to a photogram. 
But using a lens, you can't really abstract you can fuse and 
duplicate and double print, but you really can't abstract like a 
painter can, you see. So I think the word "extract" makes a little 
more sense. It's very personal; I think it'll never get in the 
dictionary. [Laughter] But an extract is to get the essence of 
something it is of something. And the image of the lens is of 
something. It's not just production up here [in the head], 

Teiser: I suppose the distinction that most people make is that if they 
look at it and can't immediately tell what it is, it's abstract. 
Is that it? 

Adams: Well, then you have abstract expressionism 
Teiser: No, I mean in a photographic sense only. 

Adams: Photographs. Well, in a lot of things that Weston did, he had a 
great sense of form. But people kept reading into this, you see, 
the constructivist idea of the painter. When they see the photograph, 
they think of it as something the photographer really did in produc 
ing these curves and shapes. But all a photographer could do would 
be to select and enhance what he was selecting by the photographic 
technique, by his own approach. It's pretty tricky. It gets into 

Teiser: We were looking at a photograph of yours I can't remember in what 
volume now and on the opposite page was a photograph of Edward 
Weston' s. The subject was the same rocks, close up. Your photograph 
was, to me at least, immediately recognizable and his if I hadn't 
seen others, I would have had to puzzle over it, and maybe I would 
never have discovered it. Would one really know that it was rocks 
along the sea? 

Adams: Well, it's awfully hard to qualify those things because the emphasis 
in Edward Weston 's mind was not as much on nature as mine was. I 
mean, Weston was a universal person. He'd take an egg beater of 
course I did too but he'd take a portrait or he'd take anything that 
he saw that would comprise a statement through which he could say 
something. Now, these words "say something" are very tricky, because 
you're not really saying, you're observing and transmitting and 
clarifying. I don't know; the words are almost hopeless. We use the 
word "visualization" when we see the print in our mind's eye. Well, 
we really don't. We see the image. We think of the edges, we think 
of the textures, we think of all that is appropriate. And then we 
have to look in the ground glass and see if we've really arranged the 
thing as we wish, and if we're watching our edges and if we're 
watching our confusions and mergers and all the little things. 


Adams: It's awfully hard to say. In other words, I'm looking at 
you here I see a picture. If I were a painter, I wouldn't 
have any problem at all because I could synthesize everything I 
see around here. But through the lens from this point of view, 
the sofa's cutting your neck right off under the ear, and the 
scene outside [through the window behind] is hopelessly confusing. 
You know, there are so many things, it would not make a good photo 
graph. Now, I could go "click," you see, and I could get what a 
lot of people call just a spontaneous image. But that's not a 
communicative image. Not necessarily. Cartier-Bresson might be 
able to do it, but he wouldn't just sit here. He would move to a 
place where he would get you at the optimum advantage. The difference 
between a man like Cartier-Bresson and a snap shooter or a person 
who's, well, it's about the same family as the cinema verite just 
walk right into a group and you're part of it. People forget that 
there's nothing duller than a sequence in motion. It's the editing 
that makes the movies the great thing. Well, it has to be there to 
begin with. 

Teiser: Have you seen a Warhol movie? 

Adams: I haven't. [Laughter] I hear it's pretty wild. 

Teiser: It must seem to go on for several days at a time. 

Adams: Well, it's like pop art. For the lack of anything else to occupy 
their spirits, they get a can of Campbell's soup. Then they do a 
very bad picture, which some ordinary signboard artist would be 
ashamed of. And that gets six thousand dollars for a museum wall. 
[Laughter] I saw a pop art show in the East and I was aghast. It 
was the crudest, most ridiculous thing I've ever seen. I tried to 
figure it out. Really a can of Campbell's soup and not very well 
rendered I And huge, you know. Of course now they're painting 
pictures so big that galleries are being taxed to show them, let 
alone get them in the museum. Like five bands of varying shades of 
black. The other kind is when they start at the top with wet paint 
and let it dribble down, and let it come down out of the frame and 
out on the floor. I saw one painting that was done right in the 
museum, and that floor was part of the composition. As the paint 
dripped on the floor, it was all part of it. They call it the 
"mustique." [Laughter] 

Teiser: Back to Group f/64 this one is a real review, I guess, as reviews 

went. This is by a man named Julius Craven, writing in The Argonaut, 
December 2, 1932. Did you know him? 

Adams: Oh yes, yes. He was pretty good. 

Teiser: [Reading] "For the benefit of those who may be as 
ignorant of cameras and camera craft as we are, 
if there are any such, we may as well begin by 
explaining that 'Group f.64,' [sic] a group of 


Teiser: photographers which is now exhibiting. . .takes its name 
from the smallest stop on a camera lens. When the f.64 
stop is used in making an exposure, it's called 'stopping 
down' or 'sharp focusing.' And sharp focusing happens 
to be the vogue just now in 'artistic' photography...." 

Adams: I think this is a point, if I may say it: The lens is sharp, if it's 
wide open, on the focal plane, but "stopping down" gives depth so you 
have "sharpness" on many planes. And the f/64 is the smallest stop 
on the conventional big twelve- inch lens. F/16 might be the smallest 
on a miniature lens and a process lens may be over f/200. So f/64 is 
a symbol it means depth more than sharpness. (Pardon me for inter 
jecting this, but these are relevant ideas.) 

Teiser: But by 1932 was it a "vogue" in artistic photography, as he says? 

Adams : No , I think what he was saying there was that we were daring to enter 
the domain of the arts. 

Teiser: [Reading] "The membership of the group is comprised of..." (and lists 
them all). "You might say that these are the master- 
photographers of California. However, their current 
exhibition includes prints by an additional (invited) 
group of four, namely, Preston Holder, Consuela [Consuelo] 
Kanaga, Alma Lavenson, and Brett Weston. And this group 
might also be called master-photographers. Anyway, be 
that as it may, together they are offering an excellent 
exhibition of photographs. 

"Photography is one of the few crafts that has 
advanced during the machine age. This may be partly 
due to some of the inventions pertaining to it. But 
it is probably largely because photography has come 
to be recognized as being closely akin to, if not 
actually to overlap conventional creative art. The 
pictorial photographer of today must be a capable 
artist (culturally, instinctively, mentally), as well 
as a highly trained technician. He is not only the man 
behind the camera, but the brains inside it, as well." 

Adams: "Pictorial" equals amateur, weak P.S.A. stuff! 

Teiser: [Reading] "There are many outstandingly beautiful prints in the show." 
Shall I read you some of the ones he mentions? 

Adams: Yes, fine. I think that's pretty good what he said, for the times. 
With no knowledge of photography, no exposure to photography, that's 
very good comment. 

Teiser: [Reading] "There are many outstandingly beautiful prints in the show. 


Teiser: Imogen Cunningham's studies of plant forms; Ansel Adams's 
fine studies of Piazzoni at work on his murals for the 
Public Library; Cunsuelo Kanaga's four exceptionally 
fine portrait studies of negros [sic] ; one of which we 
think we recognize as being Kenneth Spencer;..." Was it? 

Adams: Could have been, could have been. Yes, I think it was. 

Teiser: [Reading] "...Willard Van Dyke's 'Plant Form'; Sonia Noskowiak's 
'Palm Blossom'; Edward and Brett Weston's many fine 
studies of form and design. Such a collection of prints 
makes us feel that, had we time or money, or both, we would 
add photography to our list of favorite hobbies. But we 
also know enough about it to realize that photography is hard 
labor in one of its most drastic forms, and not a mere 
pastime to play at." [Laughter] 

Adams: Yes. Being a hobbyist. Unfortunately, there are many people who can 
afford to be. That's why so many bad things are done. 

Teiser: By the wealthy hobbyists? 

Adams: The wealthy hobbyists. They might as well play golf or have a polo 
horse or a motorboat. But there's something entrancing about the 
whole photographic setup, the cameras, the lenses, the equipment. 
It's just unbelievable now, and the precision and quality's unbeliev 
able. It's one thing that's gone up. Cars might go down, but I 
don't think there's ever been a reason for Ralph Nader to investigate 
photographic equipment performance. [Laughs] And sometimes it's 
miraculous what they do in the price range, although prices are up. 

Meters, Lenses and Film Speeds 

Adams : 

Adams : 

We have exposure meters we make demands. Well, a really dependable 
meter would cost a thousand dollars, and they cost a little over a 
hundred, because they make them in quantity. They're still not really 
accurate. I have an English photometer that costs a little over two 
hundred dollars now, and it's still the most accurate photometer that 
the average person can get. I can think of other photometers that 
run up into thousands of dollars; they're really accurate through the 
full scale, consistent calibration. 

Are they portable? 

No. They would be in a suitcase. [Laughs] 
be in a small suitcase. 

The Leukeish meter would 


Adams: You always have that problem with the cameras. Now these precision 
cameras are really made to tolerances that are unbelievable one 
hundredth of a millimeter, thousandth of a millimeter. I mean they've 
really done beautifully, and I don't imagine we ever can significantly 
improve on the lenses which we now have. 

Teiser: Did the first lenses you used have qualities however that, say, 
coated lenses now don't have? 

Adams: Well, there were very fine lenses made then, but they weren't 

consistent; they weren't very spectacular in their performance and 
their coverage. For instance, I doubt if you could get something 
like a Super-Angulon wide-angle lens today without benefit of a 
computer. I mean, the design is so complex. The perfect flat 
field; a five-inch lens that will cover an eight by ten plate, on 
axis they call it. And it's beautiful. To figure that just by 
arithmetic would be highly improbable. We used lenses like the 
Dagor and the Cooke and the Zeiss Protar, which were very fine 
lenses. Some were convertible; you could use different elements 
separately or together. They gave beautiful images and why nobody 
exactly knows. There was some aberration, but it didn't destroy the 
visual resolution, which was quite high. 

The theory of the coated lens is very intricate, and people 
don't understand what happens. But every air-glass surface that is, 
surface of glass to air reflects about 4 percent of the light 
falling on it. If you have a four air-glass element lens, like a 
Dagor, you get about 80-plus percent transmission of light; the rest 
of it's scattered. But some of that scatter produces a flare over 
the image a very low- impact flare of light. The bad lenses are the 
ones that give you a flare in the middle, which is a real flare. But 
the average uncoated lens like a Protar would just give you a soft 
shadow. It would add a couple of units of exposure, and that would 
give you a very smooth image, and the Cooke lenses, which were eight 
air-glass, would give you a very soft image for that reason. You 
would get almost what we would call today pre-exposure. In black and 
white, that's an advantage. Every black and white photographer should 
have at least one uncoated lens, a six or eight air-glass, because it 
would solve a lot of contrast problems. 

When you get into color, you have a different thing, because 
flare then takes on the dominant color of the subject, so that if 
you're photographing a landscape with much blue sky, you would get 
a blue cast. If you're photographing trees, you would get a green 
cast. The flare would convey the dominant hue or color of the scene. 
So that's why coated lenses are very important now with color. 

And then, if you look at a lens which is coated, you'll see a 
purple or yellowish cast. If you see a yellow coating, that means 


Adams: it's transmitting more blue; if you see a purplish-blue cast, that 
means it's transmitting more yellow. You used to get lenses that 
would be coated different ways; so a 35 mm. camera might not give 
you the same color balance with different lenses. All the lenses 
of one make are all coated the same so much blue, so much yellow, or 
purple. They have new systems called "super coats ," and they're 
getting down to an absolute minimum of flare. So your color purity 
is superior now to what it's ever been better than you ever could 
get it before. I know in the old days people always said, "We'll 
have to use a lens composed of as few elements as possible." 
[Interruption for phone call] 

As for the f/64 group, I don't think any of us had a coated lens 
at that time. I think I tried one a few years later. And it's 
interesting for a photographer to study the quality of his earlier 
work. Because in earlier black and white, there's always a longer, 
richer scale than there is in many contemporary pictures. Because 
we've lost two to four exposing units at the bottom of our curve, 
because we have done away with "flare." We get the true luminous 
range, and that makes for deep shadow values. You see many pictures, 
especially with miniature cameras, where the shadows look very empty 
lifeless, dead, no density. But part of that is due to the fact that 
there's absolutely no support of the shadows, which you would get if 
you had some flare. 

Whereas in color without flare you'd be unhappy. I took a color 
picture of Edward Weston sitting by his brick chimney, and everything 
went red because the brick was in sun, and this caused a red flare. 
In the modern lens you might get only a whisper of red, but you 
wouldn't get that all-over reddish cast. 

But I don't think any of the f/64 people had anything like that. 
The Leitz people, and Zeiss, I think, put out an f/1.5 lens with lens 
coating, but it was greenish and it was terrible for color. Then the 
Polarizer came in. Before Land invented Polaroid there were several 
very crude ways of making polarizing filters. And one was a deposition 
of sheep urine crystals on glass or plastic. Now, of all the animals 
in the world, the sheep urine condenses into long crystals like a 
picket fence, and these could be aligned. So the light that is 
vibrating this way (vertical) goes through the fence; the light that 
goes that way (horizontal) doesn't! 

It also had a color effect. And then Land invented a way to 
manufacture a plastic film with polarizing crystals, which is color 
less, or practically so. It is one of the great technical achieve 
ments of our time. When you look at what that man has accomplished 
in various fields, it almost scares you. 

We take Polaroid glasses now for granted. You buy 3-D viewers 
for five cents and all such stuff. It's all a matter of making a 


Adams: plastic hundreds of miles of it, in big sheets in which the Polaroid 
crystals are all aligned. Theoretically, it's extremely complex. Now 
you just push a button and this machine does it. [Laughs] So, at any 
rate, we didn't have that aid until quite a bit later. 

Then the polarizers came in, and were gratefully received. I 
can't remember the dates of introduction of these things, but I would 
say that most of the f/64 people were using pretty basic equipment 
uncoated lenses, films of the type of Isopan, or Kodak Superanchro- 
matic. The speeds were around ASA 64, plus or minus. Many went down 
to 24 and lower than that. 

Teiser: Were you using ASA speeds then? 

Adams: No, we used Weston speeds, and there were the Scheiner and DIN speeds, 
all of which are logical arithmetical systems. 

The first Weston light meter was designed to help out the 
photographer and avoid his making under-exposures, so they added what 
they called a "K" factor and they used first the number 50, which 
should have been 64. It mathematically worked out as ASA 64. But 
they took one more number just for safety. Finally they found that 
people were over-exposing, so they used ASA 64. Fifty is the first 
step below. You see, all these numbers you go from 32 to 40 to 50 
to 64, etc. Everything goes up on the log to base 10 number, which 
is 0, .1, .2, .3, (which is two times), .4, .5, .6 (which is four 
times), .7, .8, .9 (which is eight times), and so on. So all the 
lens stops and ASA numbers progress "three." Every time they double, 
like 64 to 125, you have two log 10 steps. It's up to the manufac 
turer to decide the calibration he wants. Most of the built-in 
meters in the cameras are not accurate, very strangely calibrated 
the ones I've come across. But they may be beautiful pieces of 
electronic gadgetry. You have to make personal adjustments to a 
complex world'. 

Brigman, Van Dyke, Edwards, and Cunningham 

Adams: But that's getting off the f/64. You want more of that. 

Teiser: All of the people in that group really are of interest. Let me read 
down a list of those who exhibited. 

The first one was not a member of the group, but I think she 

was a photographer, and I think Imogen Cunningham said that the 

group first met in her studio although she herself Ann Brigman 
wasn't there. 


Adams: Ann Brigman, yes. She was the only photographer from the West that 
Stieglitz liked. He felt that she had a perception that was very 
unusual. Her work was primarily soft focus, and a great deal of it 
was entwining nudes with Sierra junipers. Some very effective, 
almost art nouveau feeling. But it was very thoughtful and very well 
done. I don't remember many more things than her fantasies of the 
juniper the tree shapes, and then the nudes relating thereto, in 

Teiser: Was she a professional photographer? 

Adams : 


Adams : 

Yes. I think she did portraits. I don't know too much about her. I 
only met her once. But she was quite a considerable person and went 
right along with the Stieglitz tradition of trying to see things 
photographically , although the definition was goofy most of the time. 

You see, they were still afraid of sharp things, and our f/64, 
really a visual manifesto, was to come back to the sharpness the 
microscopic revelation of the lens and as it's perfectly gorgeous, 
why hide it? 

You've spoken of Willard Van Dyke, 

Can you discuss him a little 

Well, he was a very vital young man; he had a great imagination and 
was a great friend of Edward Weston. He did some very fine stills. 
(In fact, he had a fine show of his still photography a little while 
ago very unexpected!) After the f/64 experiences he decided he had 
reached the limit of what he could do in still black and white, and 
he thought, "It's the movies for me now. I'm going to go into 
cinema productions," and he went to New York and became a very 
successful and important documentary photographer in the film world. 

He went east, and I'm not sure of this, but I think at first he 
made a small living by doing stills. He had a remarkable darkroom in 
a closet. You know New York and the limit of space. He put shelves 
in it, so he'd stand on a stepladder and have developer on the top 
shelf, the short stop on the second shelf and the fixing bath on the 
third shelf, and then down to the water tub and then he'd take the 
negative or print out to the bathtub and wash them. [Laughs] That's 
more or less official. Anyway, he did make a big success in the docu 
mentary world. I think he was very close to [Robert J.] Flaherty and 
Pare Lorenz and others of that group. There's probably many 
associates I don't know of. 

And then, after a rewarding career, he had the opportunity to 
take over the department of moving pictures of film at the Museum 
of Modern Art, which is a tribute to his qualities. 


Adams : 

Adams : 


Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 

His career just went right along? 

It went along very famously and very favorably. He's a fine person. 

He started making a living by running a gas station was that it? 

Yes, he was running a gas station over in Piedmont, and a museum 
director saw him one day, and he said, "Well, so this is what you do 
when you're not in the darkroom. I call it a matter of pump and 
circumstance," which is a great pun! [Laughter] 

I haven't seen him very much. We're very fond of each other. 
He says I'm the only "square" he loves. [Laughter] Well, you can 
call me an oddball for some things. [Laughter] Anyway, I know he 's 
doing fine. 

Then, on my list, there's you and Edward Weston and John Paul Edwards. 

John Paul Edwards I think he was a businessman. As far as I can 
remember, he was not a professional photographer. He was an ardent 
amateur. And his daughter, Mary Jeanette Edwards, was a great flame 
of Van Dyke's before he left for the East. They ran the little studio 
together on Brockhurst Street in Oakland. And then something happened- 

But John Paul Edwards was an accomplished photographer enough for you 
to admit him to your group? 

There's some question, actually, if you wanted to be very cold-blooded 
about it, whether he was good enough, but we had no established 
standards. I think today a couple of members would have been 
eliminated on the basis of standards or accomplishment for no other 
reasons. I don't think he did enough really good work, but he was so 
sympathetic! And every organization has valuable enthusiasts that may 
not be up to the top level of some of the other people, but still are 
very important because they get things done. It's very easy to be 
very snobbish in this. But we all accepted him. Which one do you 
have 1 next on the list? 

Imogen Cunningham. 

Oh well, she's a great figure. She's very important. 

What sort of photographs was she making at that time? She's done a 
variety of work. 

It has always been mult i -diverse, if you want to use the term. She's 
always covered a tremendous field. At that time she was doing 
portraits and flowers details. She made platinum prints. I have 
quite a beautiful detail of a magnolia flower. But at that time, you 


Adams: see, people's techniques weren't what they are today and chemical 

knowledge wasn't much either, and unfortunately many of the works of 
that period are fading, including mine. We didn't know about two 
hypo baths, for example, and we didn't know lots of important 
technical things. 

Parmelian Prints 

Adams : 
Teiser ; 
Adams : 

Adams : 


Adams : 

Many of my works before 1930 could very easily fade, and have! 
Oh, is that right? 

The portfolio show they had at the Stanford Museum,* the Parmelian 
Prints fortunately it was a very good set. Only one or two had 
begun to turn slightly. 

What does the word "Parmelian" mean? 

Nothing. The publisher didn't want to use the word "photograph," 
so she concocted this little kind of a bastard combination of Greek 
terms from black "melios." I don't even think that is an accurate 
use of the term, but she liked it, so it was used. 

Of course, it's a trick, because not meaning anything, people 
remember it. [Laughter] But as she wouldn't use the word "photograph" 
there had to be some other name. People were so scared of photography. 

She was Jean Chambers Moore . 
brought into it? 

Who was she? How did she happen to be 


She was a lady in the book world, a friend of Albert Bender's. He 
told her that he was going to subsidize this; would she publish it? 
We didn't realize then that we could have done it ourselves a thing 
as small as that. But she did handle it. She received the checks 
and deposited them and took a percentage that's about all she did. 
[Laughter] She was all right, but timid, you see; wouldn't say 
"photographs." And 1^ was very severely criticized for that. I 
should have stood by my guns, but I said, "Well, my guns would have 
been spiked immediately because if I'd insisted on 'photographs' she 
wouldn't have done it." You see, that's forty-five years ago. 

Do you remember Joseph Le Conte's review of that in the Sierra Club 

*The exhibit of this 1927 portfolio of photographs by Ansel Adams 
opened on February 20, 1972. 


Adams: No, I don't. 

Teiser: Eighteen prints [reading] "of exquisite composition, each as 
technically perfect as it is possible to be produced." 

Adams : Oh . 

Teiser: [Reading] "The fact that they are the handiwork of Ansel Adams is 
sufficient to guarantee their artistic perfection to members of our 

He thought the most remarkable was Mount Brewer. It was over 
six miles away, he wrote, and it was taken with a "telephotographic 
lens." [Reading] "The artist has attempted, and with great success, 
to suggest the scenery of the Sierra Nevada in a more pictorial sense 
than by a literal representation. By keeping to a simple and rather 
austere style, the prints assume a dignity and beauty which is not 
generally conveyed by photography." 

Adams: Well, that's nice. [Laughs] 

He was a very broad man. It's important to realize that a man 
of that degree of culture and understanding was interested in the 
mountains. He did thousands of pictures, and I printed many of them, 
as records of his travels in the Sierra. They were completely 
uninspired but perfectly honest photographs. Other people couldn't 
tell the difference between his approach and my approach, but he was 
sensitive enough to realize that I was trying to add something. I 
thought that was a very generous thing, because I definitely was 
adding a point of view, where he was interested in the scientific 
and the factual. 

Teiser: By then had you been with him in the mountains? 
Adams: Oh yes, I'd go out on trips with the family. 
Teiser: So he'd watched you take pictures. 

Adams: Oh yes. And I watched himl He was a wonderful little man and a dear 
friend. In fact, there's a book coming out now his journal. I 
forget the name of the publisher. 

Teiser: Lewis Osborne. 

Adams: Yes, Osborne. I wrote the preface for that.* He asked me questions 
I couldn't remember. 

*Joseph N. LeConte, A Summer of Travel in the High Sierra . Ashland, 
Oregon: Lewis Osborne, 1972, 


Noskowiak, Weston, Swift, Holder, Kanaga, and Lavenson 

Teiser: Well, back to f/64. Sonia Noskowiak. 

Adams: She was a very nice gal. A great friend of Edward Weston' s. They 
lived together for quite a while. And of course, like most of the 
people who worked with Edward, she was deeply influenced in seeing 
and technique. I think she's still living. 

I think she didn't have as much force as some of the others. 
She was so dominated by Edward, she just grabbed the style without 
the substance. But I have seen some very excellent pictures that 
she did when she was more herself. She was a lovable person in many 

You see, the instrument that was used in the classic sense was 
the eight by ten camera, and the contact print the eight-ten format 
religiously adhered to. Everything squeezed into eight by ten, not 
seven by ten, but eight by ten, and of course nature isn't exactly 
built that way. Sometimes it becomes difficult to get something 
that really is a 6 2/3 by 10 proportion in the world and then try to 
make it eight by ten. You know, it's like buying canvasses 20 by 34 
and filling them, which of course you can do as a painter because 
you can "adjust." But I have a terrible time when people say, "I 
want a 20 by 24 'print' of a subject." Well, that's a category; and 
I try to bring one dimension, if the photograph is a vertical, to 
20 inches. I try to make one dimension as large as I can. And then 
it might be 36 or 30 or 26 [in the other dimension]. So they say, 
"It's not 20 by 24," and I try to explain that this is a category 
and not based on square inches. I think it's Moulin in San Francisco 
that charges for photo murals by the square inch, which to me is one 
of the funniest things in the world, because paper comes in a roll. 
And what do you do with the little stuff you trim off? Like I made 
eight prints the other day in the so-called 20 by 24 category. (It 
was actually fifteen there were some in the ashcan, and two more 
went today, so I have six left.) Well, the cost of the paper's so 
minor compared to the workl 

I suppose it's a very small amount per square inch, you know, 
so it looks good, and nobody's going to sit down and figure it all 
out. If it were one cent a square inch, it would be $1.44 a square 
foot, you see. And if it was three by five feet it would be about 
$22.50! But the price might be seven hundred dollars! I've had a 
man who was so captious about it that I sent him a check for $1.18, 
which was the differential cost of the paper. [Laughter] As close 
as I could figure. 


Adams: Anyway, let's get back to f/64. I don't know too much about 

Noskowiak. I don't know where she is. I'd like to follow through; 
I was very fond of her. She was the subject of many of Edward's 
nudes, in what they call (it's not delicate to say it, but) the 
"scrawny" period. I mean, she was rather lean and posed in very 
vigorous attitudes. And I called those pictures "morguesque," 
because they were printed rather gray, and they didn't have that 
wonderful luminance of what he did with Tina Modotti and others in 

There's something about the photographic print, the pure black 
image, that can be very cold, and I'm trying to break away from 
that with subtle selenium tones. It makes quite an emotional 
difference. Maybe a little four by five print that is just blue- 
black; it's a little frigid and when it relates to a nude.... It 
might be all right for a rock, but it's all a matter of complex 

Teiser: Henry Swift. 

Adams: Henry Swift was a businessman and founded Henry F. Swift & Company, 
a big bond house stocks and bonds. It's still going. And 
Florence Swift was a painter. They were very charming people. And 
he was full of vim and vigor, and did a lot of experimental work, 
but the thing that got him into the Group f/64 was the series of 
pictures he did of mathematical models at the University. They had 
made models of equations three-dimensional equations in plaster, 
sometimes outlined with string and glass. And he photographed these, 
and they're extremely beautiful extremely beautiful. 

Teiser: Perhaps that was what one of the exhibition reviewers mentioned as 

Adams: Yes. Now, here's an interesting thing: there's nothing more 

abstract than a three-dimensional mathematical model, but he makes 
a photograph of it, it's still a photograph of the model. So you 
see it would give a superficial impression of being a photographic 

Well, I don't know what else Swift did. I think he tried some 
things like mud cracks a few things. But he was really quite a 
nice person. I think he left photography rather early. He also had 
some money and helped us out with some of our material expenses, 
although we got by with this whole thing at a very low cost an 
amazingly low outlay. Everybody did their own work, and we chipped 
in on the announcements. It's an ideal system but scary at times! 


Adams: What's the next thing you have? 

Teiser: Well, there were the four people who exhibited with you. Preston 

Adams: I've not seen Preston Holder, and I don't know what he's doing, but 
he was pretty good. I don't remember his being outstanding, but he 
was terribly sincere. I think we really got these people on the 
basis of their sincerity. They all were really tied up with the 
work, and loved it. 

Teiser: He didn't go on to become a professional photographer? 
Adams: Not that I know of, no. 
Teiser: Consuelo Kanaga. 

Adams: They all called her "Connie." She was very good. She was very 
imaginative, very romantic, did some beautiful portraits, was a 
little overshadowed by Dorothea Lange. Dorothea Lange never quite 
forgave us for not getting her in the group. She at that time was 
so pictorial and so fuzzy-wuzzy that it never occurred to us. And 
I really regretted it later after seeing more of her work. At that 
time it certainly should have been considered, but.... 

Harroun: Was she doing mostly portraits at that time? 

Adams: She did portraits and worked with some Navajo Indians. Maynard 
Dixon, her husband, was deeply involved with the Indians and the 
Southwest. I think she and Consuelo were in competition, frankly. 
I think it was kind of a stylistic competition, as well as in the 
portrait business. 

Teiser: They were both in the same immediate field? 

Adams : Yes . 

Teiser: Alma Lavenson. 

Adams: Well, she lived in Piedmont, and she was, I think you would say, 

kind of the Julia Margaret Cameron of Berkeley. I mean, she tried 
very hard [laughter]. That's a cruel statement. 

Teiser: It gives the idea. 

Adams: I assumed that she had means and she could do what she wanted. And 
then she married a nice man named Wahrhaftig but that was quite 
late, and I think he's dead now. But she did pictures of the Mother 
Lode country which were really quite superior. As I say, I don't 


Adams: know about her business status or whether she just lived on what she 
had or whether she did any professional work. 

Brett Weston and Edward Weston 



Then Brett Weston was the last one. 
he making then? 

What sort of photographs was 



He was relatively young, and he was very much under the domination 
of his father. So he was influenced technically and visually by 
his father's work. Not imitating him, you understand what I mean, 
because Brett was always a strong individual. And Brett steadily 
progressed to become one of the very best of the "younger" 
photographers, but he's sixty-something now. And his latest work 
with the 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 format is simply superb. He is now secure 
in his own expressive domain. But the domination of the old man 
was not intentional and Edward didn't like it, but there it was. I, 
in fact, was probably one of the very few that were not dominated by 
Edward. I mean I used much of the same equipment and materials, but 
I always saw things very differently. 

Mrs. Newhall writes in her book that the first time you met Eward 
Weston you didn't like his work particularly. Is this true? 

Yes, it's true. I didn't react. It was well, you have to get a 
little perspective on Edward. Edward was a portrait photographer 
in Glendale who really went for the trade, as they say. I mean he 
did soft-focus pictures of ladies and shadows against the wall, and 
a peculiar quality of pictorialism that was sometimes quite goofy. 
And it bothered me because it seemed very mannered and very much 
"Hollywood," as I knew it. (You know, "Hollywood" is a term that 
covers a million different places at once.) 

He was a very nice man, and I met him and the boys I think two 
of them at Albert Bender's. But he was just making the transition. 
And the prints, to me, were kind of chemically green what they call 
commercial paper color. You still get that color; I have to use 
selenium to overcome it. And I felt there was a kind of a sterility 
about it, and I fought it for several years. And then after I saw 
Strand's negatives and realized what straight photography could be, 
I gradually came to realize more and more what Edward was trying to 
do. Edward had made vast steps forward in those several years. He 
was more generous to me than I was to him in the beginning, by far. 
I finally realized that some of this work was really what we're all 
after in our own way. So about 1931 or '30 we became very close 
friends, and at the time of his death we were very close, I think 


Adams: really close in understanding and sympathy. He never depended on 
anybody he wasn't that kind of a man. I guess I would be one of 
the few people he was glad to have around when he needed them. It's 
a feeling. He was very individualistic, and absolutely honest, and 
he flagellated himself in his living. He wouldn't compromise one 
bit. He used to say that doing a photograph on a commission is 
kind of prostitution. And I said, "What about the portraits?" 
"Well," he said, "that's just dating," and he used to laugh. [Laughs] 

But in the depths of the Depression, Albert Bender was keeping 
all his friends going; he got a job for Edward from the MJB coffee 
people, the Branstens. They were really very wonderful and generous 
people one of these really great San Francisco Jewish families, you 
know. I doubt if there's ever been anything like the families. 
There were a dozen of them, and they were the most generous and out 
going and intelligent people I have ever known. And they said, "Well, 
of course we'll give him a job. We have wanted quality pictures. 
Just have advertisements of a beautiful white china cup of coffee 
(and set), and just say, 'Photograph by Edward Weston for MJB'." 
This is called an institutional ad, you see. And they had this 
beautiful set of English china pure white. So they got that to the 
studio and all the coffee he could make. All he had to do was to 
create compositions. It was entirely up to him. There was no re 
striction and no "copy" with it. 

He worked on that thing for two or three weeks and finally he 
called them up and said, "I can't do it. It doesn't mean anything 
to me." It's a very interesting thing, because the professional 
photographer, you see, lives like an architect, on his clients. I 
mean, you want to build a house, well, I build the house for you. 
I try to keep my standards, but still I try to figure out what you 
need. But Edward just couldn't do that. To him, putting a beautiful 
piece of porcelain and arranging it any way he wanted, and putting 
coffee in it black you know, typical, wonderful for his work he 
couldn't do it. 

And they all understood! They understood perfectly. He'd 
done six or seven for them, and they said, "Well, we'll buy these 
whether we use them or not, and we understand perfectly. You've 
been perfectly honest." That was quite an event, and a credit to 
the Branstens. 

He did a series of pictures for the publication of Leaves of 
Grass Random House. And he also did some pictures of the West for 
the Automobile Club of Southern California. But that was still his 
work. They were buying his creative work. They weren't giving him 
an external assignment. 


Adams: Brett has always more or less carried that theory out. It's fine if 
it's what he wants to do as an easel painter, without any strictures- 
if they can use it. 

I think that's a great idea, too. You have to make a living, 
though. You can adjust. In fact, I told Brett, "Well, after all, 
Michelangelo painted the popes." "Well," Brett said, "that's not 
the way I would do it." 

You come across all kinds of confusions and strange personal 
quirks in this photographic world. Stieglitz never did any commis 
sions; Strand never did, except for some social movements. [Eliot] 
Porter has never done anything for professional commercial 
assignment, to my knowledge; he writes his own assignments. He can 
afford to. 

Applied Photography 

Adams: I've done everything from morgue photography and surgical 

photography [laughs] to commercial advertisements and architecture. 

Teiser: You've done surgical photography? 

Adams: Yes, I've done quite a lot of surgical photography. Very interesting. 

Teiser: I should think so. 

Adams: Not creative. It's a sheer absolute it has to be good, you know 

clear. And I did some movies once; it was quite an experience. Very 
poor stuff. 

[End Tape 5, Side 1] 
[Begin Tape 5, Side 2] 

Adams: Well, I'm a peculiar mixture, and one of the few I know of that 

combined the professional life with the creative life. That would be 
a very important thing, I think, in the future, to find out how many 
people would do that. The only reason I got by with it was that I 
had some wonderful breaks and great clients. 

I did many catalogues for the [San Francisco] museums, pictures 
of paintings and sculptures, and I did, oh, a lot of architectural 
work. I think one of my biggest projects was the series of 
photographs of Maurice Sterne's murals in the Department of Justice, 
which were produced as original prints. We made quite a few port 
folios of these. Then Albert Bender had acquired a very handsome set 


Adams: of Chinese carvings marbles and we did limited editions of that. 

And, as I say, I'd have an advertising job and an architectural job, 
and I'd have a surgery job, and a portrait now and then. 

I think the worst surgical job I had I was on the platform, very 
high. And operating rooms get very hot, and I was not bothered at all 
by the operation; this was one of these breast resections with an 
electric knife. Well, the combination of the anesthetic [laughter] 
and the heat, and the peculiar smoky effluvia of burning epidermis! 
And here I was up there it must have been ninety- some thing degrees, 
hanging over this tripod. And that's the only time I really had 
trouble, because I just needed oxygen, you know. [Laughs] 

Then, during the War, my last days in Los Angeles at Art Center 
School, we had a small group who went and worked with the Civil 
Defense group, and one of the problems was the hypothetical 
identification of corpses, should there be an attack. How do you 
identify them? So I worked out a system using a mirror. And we'd 
make a photograph of the victim, but he'd be in a mirror so you would 
get the full face as well as the profile. Now the full face, then, 
had to be and could be easily reversed in the enlargement. We would 
go over to the Los Angeles morgue and make these photographs. 

Oh, they got into all kinds of situations. I remember one time 
they wheeled this old character out he was a drunk, he may have 
passed out for good. They lifted him off the table, threw him on 
the floor and gave him a kick with the foot and said, "Now this is 
probably the way it looks after a bomb attack." So after you got 
over that, you figure out, "Well, here he is. The figure's lying 
there, and how do you get the camera in and what focal length lens, 
and what adjustments to get his profile, and what lighting?" That 
information could be very valuable, even if very morbid I 

My last session there was through at ten-thirty p.m. and I had 
my car all loaded up and I drove right up to Edward Weston's in 
Carmel, and got there in the late morning and was absolutely 
exhausted. And, oh boy, I still smelled of formaldehyde.' Edward 
says, "Whew, where you been, Lazarus?" [Laughter] Funny. So he 
made a photograph of me. (I now have a beard.) I was looking very 
weird, very tired, but then I was through with Los Angeles, thank 
goodness and then I went on to Manzanar. 

Giving Photography Museum Status 

Adams: Well, now, how about the any other names to consider there? 

Teiser: Those were all the names I had in connection with f/64. Were there 
other people who also exhibited with you in later periods? 


Adams: No. But what I wanted to say I think I may have mentioned it 
before was the fact that we existed only for a short time. 

Teiser: You mentioned that you made a manifesto. Was it published anywhere? 

Adams: I think it was published in a magazine somewhere, or on the museum 
wall. That's where it really was. But Weston had decided that we 
could very easily create a cult or be typed, you see, by continuing 
this this f/64 into a continuing thing. So we voted to disband, 
and in one sense it's one of the most healthy things you can imagine 
in not perpetuating a cult or an idea or an association, because all 
of us could have been very easily tied in then with a "school" you 
know what I mean. Edward Weston school, West Coast school. 

Now we still are in that mess, but it's not intentional. So 
many of us are criticized as being just a continuation of this old 
"West Coast" school. Well, of course, nothing could be further from 
the truth, see. Our Friends of Photography has covered many, many 
facets of photography the most contemporary back to historic. It's 
surprising anyone should get labeled these days, but they do. 

Teiser: Well, this was one of the other things I was interested in about 
Group f/64, that it has had such a very long-lasting effect. 

Adams: It had a tremendous impact. There was no plan to have an impact. 
Well, I guess we thought we would help, but I mean, we had no idea 
at all what would happen. And within that year it influenced the 
whole course of American photography. 

Teiser: Do you think it was in any way what they call an idea whose time had 

Adams: Yes, I think absolutely it was that. It was a group of young people, 
and they weren't radical activists as you have today. They didn't 
spend their time figuring out ways of doing things. They figured 
out more the doing of them. And it was this problem of being 
dedicated to the idea. 

The idea of closing f/64 off, very short duration, was the 
healthiest thing we could do, because we weren't any kind of a formal 
organization. We had no offices, we had no board, we weren't 
"founded." We were just a very informal group. And Willard 
[Van Dyke] and I, I guess, were the ones who did most of the 
activating and planning of things. There were others who did much 
too. But there's always a few that take, you know, more credit than 

Harroun: What part did Edward Weston play? 

Was he really interested in it 


Adams: He contributed. He didn't do much to the concept he just agreed 
and contributed. Most of us did that. But there was always some 
body who had to do the telephoning and sending out the cards. 

Teiser: Who actually chose the prints for the exhibit? 

Adams: That was the group. We sent out cards to all the members. I think 
Willard did it or I did it or we both did it, I forget. Willard did 
more than I did. We said we have an opportunity for a show, and now 
we'll all meet when we can, and gave some dates. And they all met 
over at Brockhurst or at my place. I think we met twice. And we 
picked out a set of pictures for the show and then the director his 
name was [Lloyd] Rollins a very sympathetic, wonderful guy he 
helped us design the show. And he threw out the baddies and kept in 
the goodies. You know it's always very important to have an objective 
analysis from the outside. In other words, if I'm going to have a 
show I never would put it up myself. I might pick out a hundred 
pictures that I like and that I wanted up and then say, "Well now, 
we've got to get sixty out of these." Nancy Newhall did that big 
show in 1963. I was terribly upset because there were a few of my 
favorites that were not in it. And when the show was up I realized 
why they weren't in there repetitive. She was absolutely right I 

And the same with selecting portfolios. For Portfolio Five, 
which is ten prints, we had twenty potentials. And we'd just show 
them to people and talk and say, "Now what's your reaction?" And 
I would see their points of view, and I got it down to ten prints. 
And it was very good because of that, better than if I had just made 
the selection myself. Many photographers don't do that. They feel 
that they're the only ones that can judge their own work. But a lot 
of things are done on the emotion of the moment, and it's awfully 
hard for the artist to have an objective point of view. 

In fact I'm thinking now of putting in Portfolio Six two 
pictures that were done in the twenties. They really have an impact. 
It took this long to find it out. [Laughs] 

Teiser: Was Group f/64's a big show? 

Adams: No, no. I think there were oh my seventy or eighty prints, in 
that area maybe less. 

Teiser: Rollins was interested in photography, was he? 

Adams: He was. He was simply marvelous. If it hadn't been for Rollins, 

I don't think we could have ever gotten the show, ever got recognition. 
Because he was young and he was very much ahead of his time and very 


Teiser: It seems to me that as late as the fifties, the photographic 

magazines were complaining that museums didn't recognize photography. 
But we've been doing it in San Francisco for quite a long time. 

Adams: Yes, I think we were one of the very first. Well, I won't say that 
the Buffalo Institute of Art [the Albright Art Gallery] gave the 
Photo-Secession show [in 1910]. But there were very, very few shows. 
The Metropolitan had some prints. They still have some interest. I 
just got a letter the other day (relative to my forthcoming exhibit 
in April 1974) saying they'd like me to conform to their mount sizes 
because they have the frames for them. My god, they're spending 
$25,000 on a show, and they're worried about a few lousy frames and 
mats, 14 1/4 by 19 1/2, or something. Throws the whole thing out of 
kilter. [Laughter] God] But I think I can get over that all right. 

But things are institutionalized. And out here they were hung 
under glass and people had their own size mats, and we all had 
different size mats in mind. Your mat is part of your vision, I 
mean. But you go to the Metropolitan and other museums and you'll 
see little things this big, you know, in a 14 by 19 mat, I mean, 
because that goes into the frame. [Laughter] 

One of the important things is that museums were scared. It's 
the art groups painting and sculpture groups that scalped photography. 
They didn't want to confront these "new" people. Now you had that 
same thing in San Francisco, my beloved home city. The artists 
there have been very negative to photography. In fact to the point 
of almost sometimes just wishing they could cancel things out. Due 
to Mr. Eldridge T. Spencer, when he became president of the Art 
Association, *after the War [World War II], he was able to promote 
a department of photography. There was great opposition from the 
"art" people, Art Association people, I should say. But he put it 
through, and I went out and got ten thousand dollars from the 
Columbia Foundation and we started. We had a wonderful department. 
He was happy and I was happy.** But whenever we tried to get a gallery 
to do something with our work, the painters were there first. Maybe 
the artists weren't really afraid of us. They were just jealous of 
time, space, and money. 

And the majority of painters today, I think, look on photography 
as an intruder. Very few painters I know have any interest in it or 
any sympathy for it. We have more sympathy for them by a hundred 
times. I was asked to put on a show at the San Francisco Museum of 
Art in October 1973. It was supposed to be a very important show. 
And they put on a big song and dance about it. It was to be 
coincidental with the reopening of the museum the whole museum is 
being redecorated, reorganized. I said, "Well now, I want a 
description of the gallery space so I can start thinking." They 
said, "Well, it's going to be in the corridor. The corridor's going 
to be improved." And I said, "Nuts to that," in not exactly the same 

*The San Francisco Art Association. 

**See also pp. 374-375 and other references to the California School 

of Fine Arts as indexed. 


Adams : 

Adams : 

Teiser : 

Adams : 

words. I said, "If I'm having an exhibit, I'm having a gallery or 
else." I was thinking about myself and photography. I mean, if this 
was, as they said, an important show, then it deserved a gallery. I 
wouldn't mind in the least having my pictures in a group thing in the 
corridor if they're going to bring out part of their collection and 
put it in the corridor. Well, that's all right. But when you have a 
show, an exhibit, and it's an important one, and it's an artist 
somebody who's achieved a certain level of distinction, and that's 
what they tell you, and they want that, I don't want it in the 
corridor. I mean, it's just a matter of I guess you'd call it 

That's where they hang most of the photographs at the museum 

Yes. It-'s terrible awful light. Well, they're fixing it up a 
little better, but they still don't know anything about light. They 
won't listen. I can give them a mathematical formula so many foot 
candles, so many candles per square foot, environmental percentage, 
all of that has been worked out. It's baby talk. And yet I know the 
last diagram I saw of the gallery, the lights were no higher than here 
at home. There won't be enough light on it. "Well, double the 
lighting." "Well, we can't. The circuits won't stand it." "Well, 
double the circuits." "We haven't got the money." [Laughter] God! 

So this whole proposition of struggling to get recognition for 
photography ... .I'll gladly put myself down for photography as a 
whole, and if all they had was a corridor and there wasn't anything 
else, well, that would be all right. I mean, you're often shown in 
terrible situations. But part of the f/64 objective was to give 
photography museum dignity. In other words, if it's good, it's good 
enough to show it in a museum. Painting, and etching, and 
lithography, and drawings and photography. The Metropolitan Museum 
now has a division called the Department of Prints and Photography 
in the Department of Art. Well, that's a step they at least use the 

The first photographic prints in American photography, did they show 
in galleries early? 

No. And I can't give you a detailed account, but I think the Photo- 
Secession show was the very first one to have a museum show. Now, 
Beaumont Newhall could tell you that; I can't. But there were 
damned few and far between. Not until Newhall became interested in 
photography at the Museum of Modern Art in the thirties and forties. 
San Francisco and the f/64 came first, and then the Museum of Modern 
Art had a series of photograph exhibits after that. 

In 1933 I went to Yale and had a letter to Dean [Everett V.] 
Meeks. And Dean Meeks was a very charming, rotund gentleman, and he 


Adams: looked at my pictures and said, "Why, remarkable, remarkable, 

remarkable!" And I had a print about this big [gesture]. He said, 
"That's one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. What's 
it of?" I said, "Foliage at Mills College." He said, "You don't 
understand. What's it of what tapestry?" And I said, "It's a 
photograph of nature." And he looked at me and he said, "Well, now, 
I don't I just haven't made myself clear. What work of art is that 
a representation of? What did you do that of?" And I says, "I took 
it of a bunch of weeds.'" [Laughs] I was just out of my mind! I mean 
I couldn't believe this man I said, again, "These are all photographs 
not of paintings or drawings or anything, but they're photographs of 
nature." "Well, that's remarkable, you must show these."* 

So I had a show at Yale in '34 or something. But here was the 
Dean of Fine Arts at Yale University who could not get through his 
head that all these photographs were not photographs of something else 
somebody had done on some graphic medium. He never thought of taking 
a camera and photographing a landscape or a detail of nature. 

Camera Clubs, Groups, and Galleries 

Teiser: This was part of the reason for all the camera club magazines perhaps. 
They didn't have anybody else to show the pictures to. 

Adams: No, they didn't. The camera club is a very interesting thing. It's 

primarily a social get-together of people interested in a hobby. Most 
camera clubs have never made a pretense of art. The Photographic 
Society of America, of which I'm a Fellow (I don't know why), largely 
represents this approach to photography. They're absolutely divorced 
and separate from the creative stream. For instance, the admiral 
awful nice man Admiral [E.G.] Forsyth makes just beautiful pictures. 
He is a trustee of the Friends of Photography, and his pictures are 
really something. Just one little theme: light and sunset, light 
reflections on water, dark/ light. He never does anything else, but 
he does it so well that I've got one of his prints that's a beautiful 
gem in my collection. 

Well, he said it would be fine if we could have an article on 
the Friends in the journal of the Photographic Society of America. 
And we had the article, and there was no comment whatsoever. It's 
just the kind of photography that's it's just another world. It's 
a sewing bee. They have a technical section which is ridiculous. 
Anyhow, it's entirely a world apart. 

Then of course, with the advent of the Depression and the photo- 
documentarists, you had another world apart. We had the Photo League 

*See also pp. 319-320. 


Adams: and we had what is now known as the "concerned photographer." It's 
a very important term, and you have to take it for what it means. 
It really means photographers who are concerned with our environ 
mental and social conditions. Now they're concerned with that, but 
that doesn't necessarily make it creative art. I'm concerned with 
something else too. I'm supposed to give a talk to them in the 
fall, and that's going to be my theme that my concern is different 
from theirs. But it's just as deep concern, because I think it 
includes the whole thing. And of course I can go on and probably 
put myself out on a limb very quickly with it. 

Bruce Davidson's East 100th Street, that book he did on the 
ghetto, is a very important thing, and some of the photographs he 
did are extraordinarily fine. But our group of photographers are 
interested, no matter what your subject is, in the photograph. I 
mean does it have an emotional wallop, aesthetic wallop, and is it 
"technically adequate"? It looks better if it has a theme, and I 
think that's one of the things that I've had to contend with. I've 
always had some kind of a theme, whether it's been conservation or 
Japanese-American relocation, etc. But the person today either 
works with a definitely social theme, of minority groups or the 
oppressed, or else with some absolutely internal, personal kind of 
experience, what we often call a "trip." 

I think I mentioned the other day the photograph, 11 by 14 
inches, of a lawn in which there was an out-of-focus dog in the 
middle of it, and that was hanging on a museum wall. Now that was 
a symbol of something to the photographer, but to the spectator, 
God knows! [Laughter] 

Now there are groups in New York, like the Circle of Confusion 
those people are largely technical. They sit around with drinks and 
dinner and yak, and they don't do much of any work. All over the 
country there are workshops beginning and unfortunately ending, 
because they just don't have the complete picture of the problem. 
But they are important because they bring people together in the 
creative sense. 

The sad thing is the number of galleries that are starting up. 
Having had a gallery myself, I know whereof I speak. They have 
absolutely no concept of the work and the money involved in it. 
They have great enthusiasm to have a gallery. And they put in a 
gallery and lights and put out an announcement. But they don't 
realize that running a gallery takes a terrific amount of publicity 
primarily an important list of artists who may be shown. You have to 
do that. You can't go out and just ask "Joe" to show, and just 
extoll "Joe the photographer." 


Adams: New galleries are starting. Some of them are very well funded, with 
a tremendous amount of money. The Light Gallery in New York is 
typical. What I saw there was certainly of no consequence whatso 
ever. The Witkin Gallery is I think the best in the country, 
because Lee Witkin combines the books, the old stuff, the new 
stuff. It's a nonpretentious place. It's just a mixed up, 
beautiful, simple setup, with no obvious money involvement that you 
see. I know the rent costs him something and he has a nice deck 
for entertaining. The gallery itself is small, but he has a 
priceless treasure of photographs. He knows photography, knows how 
to get it, and puts on these exhibits without pretension. And he's 
doing very well. 

But there was a gallery started in Chicago, called Limited 
Image Gallery, that started out with a big fanfare and had a big 
show of mine and others. And all the money they took in selling 
prints, which were not prints from the wall, but prints on order, 
they spent for the rent, the lights, and so forth, so they went 
bust. And I'm in the hole for three thousand dollars, and several 
other people I know are out. I'm the prime loser in the case 
because I had more prints. But they had absolutely no sense. They 
stuck labels to the back of the prints, which contracts the prints 
and shows on the surface. Well, they might be used for other 
exhibits, but you can't sell them. When you look at them in the 
light, you see the defect. 

Liliane De Cock had mounted her color pictures on beautiful 
mats, and then they stuck overmats on them, and a label on the back 
in addition. And then one print was just scratched right across 
the only one of its kind. She couldn't possibly make another one 
like it. 

So here's a gallery that started up and they didn't even know 
the fundamentals of care of photographs , let alone operation of the 
gallery. And we have that now, all over the country new galleries, 
new failures. 

And quite a number of publications, which are not well, 
Aperture is about the only one that survived. Friends of Photography, 
they're starting a quarterly.* I think that will be pretty good, 
because we have a good background. We don't have any money, but 
we're out on a big fund campaign now. We're a non-profit educational 
organization. We have the Ferguson Fund of twenty thousand dollars, 
which gives about fifteen hundred dollars a year to a creative 
photographer. It's been run not as a fly-by-night thing, but pretty 
solid, well planned. 

*The initial issue of the quarterly, Untitled //I, was published in 
the autumn of 1972. 


Adams : 

Teiser ; 

Adams : 

Adams : 


But here's photography, in which there's more millions expended per 
week than all of the old masters in the whole time of the 
Renaissance spent on canvas and paint or frescoes. You know, it's 
just fantastic. But most of it is a diary. The Polaroid process 
is in one sense directed to the diarist. Instead of saying, "We 
went to Grandma's for Thanksgiving turkey," by gosh there are 
pictures and pictures and pictures of Grandma and the Thanksgiving 
turkey! This is very important. But they've also gone into the 
potential art field with their four by five, and very much into the 
"concerned photographer" field with the pictures that are made by 
photographers who want to record the scene. 

Well, I'm sort of getting ahead of myself. 
Coming up to the present and going back to the past that's fine. 

I guess you've said what in general the over-all effect of the 
f/64 group was. 

My only regret was that we didn't do one publication one portfolio 
or one publication, because I think that might have had historic 
value, but on the other hand, it might have rigidized it a bit, too, 
you see. 

Rollins had also an exhibit of Moholy-Nagy. 
Did that have any effect? 

Do you remember that? 

That was the first of them. Yes, but not as photography because 
most of his photographs were photograms. I think I've described 
what the photogram was. 

No one picked up any of that here? 

Well, I won't say that. I think it's quite an illuminating thing. 
His photographs as prints were simply terrible. They were spotted, 
they were ugly, they were bad tones. But his concepts were very 
important. Moholy-Nagy was entirely interested in design and not 
substance not the subject itself. So I think he did have a 
definite effect on this approach, and I think that people didn't 
forget it. 

The Golden Gate International Exposition Exhibit 

Adams: Of course, you have to say that the biggest photographic show was at 
the 1940 Fair [the Golden Gate International Exposition]. I think 
I told you about that. 


Teiser: You haven't. We have the catalogue, A Pageant of Photography, and 
were going to ask you about it. 

Adams: Yes, because that was very important in the sense that it was just 

big, and I griped and I griped and I griped because at the 1939 Fair 
there was no photography, and Tim [Timothy] Pfleuger he was a great, 
really great man, a wonderful person he called me up one day and he 
said, "Adams, we've got a little money. Would you like to run the 
photography department?" Well, I didn't have any money, but I said, 
"God, yes. Tell me about it." He said, "Well, in the Fine Arts 
building, we'll give you some galleries and we'll give you a 
secretary she's a very attractive Italian girl who spells **f with 
a 'ph'." [Laughter] And he said, "We've got sixteen hundred dollars 
in addition to the secretary. It's all yours." 

And I went over there, and there were these big rooms, and we 
painted them, and my God, they looked beautiful. The lighting was 
only fair, but I didn't worry about that. And I had the equivalent 
of thirty-seven large galleries of photographs. And I'm not a 
museum man at all. I had Weston, both Westons, and Moholy-Nagy, and 
Arnold Gen the, a big show of contemporary color photography, and the 
Photo League. And early western photography which, if you look back 
at, there's some extraordinary things in it. But it's gone now; you 
can't find them. They printed on leather 1868, something like that.* 
And I had the equivalent of the f/64, a group show. 

Boy, that was an awful hard job, but it was a contribution, and 
that's what brought, for the first time, photography in many of its 
approaches, to the attention of the people in the West. Before that, 
nobody 'd ever seen anything. I tried to get a show from Stieglitz 
and, you know, the old boy nearly did it. He said, "I'm sorely 
tempted," and I said, "God, Stieglitz, this is the chance to do 
something. I'll paint the gallery any way you say. We have guards; 
it'll be perfectly safe. And if you'd only " Well, then he 
finally decided that he couldn't do it. If he did it, he'd have to 
send to other museums. He trusted me to take care of them, but he 
couldn't trust any of the museums to do it! He gave me all this 
fantastic negative monkey business, but still I was sorry I lost 
that. But I did have "The Steerage," a reproduction from Camera 

It was a very good show. It did bring to San Francisco, at 
least, an awareness of photography it had never had before. 

*The exhibit included an 1861 photograph on leather of Brewer Camp 
near Monterey, photographer unknown. 


Timing in Photography 

Teiser: Who was it, incidentally, who did the ten billion studies of a cup 
and saucer? Edward Steichen? 

Adams: That is apocryphal. [Laughter] 

Teiser: I was thinking of that when you were talking about Weston taking the 
MJB photographs. 

Adams: Any photo-scientist, technologist, even at that time, would have been 
able to figure out the reciprocity factor and would not have needed 
to make ten billion pictures of the cup and saucer. These stories, 
you know like the one that I waited for three days to get this 
picture or that I never waitedl The only time I waited for anything 
in my life was on top of Kearsarge Pass, waiting for some clouds to 
go away from the Kearsarge Pinnacles, and they didn't. I waited all 
afternoon, and all the clouds kept moving right along the line. But 
we have to be very fair about that, because when we know what we're 
going to do, especially when we have assignments, then we have to 
wait. But my "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" picture was taken 
with the differential of only fifteen seconds. The Lone Pine 
sunrise ["Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada, from Lone Pine"] I just 
was there at the right time. The "Grand Tetons and Snake River" was 
all within ten minutes. 

Weston used to say, "If you wait here trying to see if 
something's going to happen, you're probably losing something 
wonderful over there." So he never waited. And I wouldn't unless 
I really knew something was to "happen." 

I mean like one night we had a green flash coming up the sun 
goes down against a sharp horizon, and there's a green-emerald 
momentary flash. And there was a ship coming, and I thought, "This 
could be one of the craziest things." And I got out the big camera 
with the very long lens, you see. The idea was that it would be 
perfectly marvelous if we could photograph the ship in front of the 
setting sun with the green flash. Well, it almost made it. If I'd 
been living a quarter of a mile down the coast, I would have gotten 
it. Then I figured out, well, so what? [Laughter] My lens wasn't 
really big enough you have to have one of those huge mirror lenses. 
But, it was a pretty good green flash. Might even be one tonight. 
Ever seen a green flash? 

Teiser: No. Mr. Spencer said you had a great interest in the green flash. 

Adams: Well, the green flash is a very interesting phenomenon. It takes a 
knife-edge ocean line (there can't be any clouds) and as the sun 
descends, I guess you would say, the spectrum is sectored. The blue 


Adams: light is completely scattered, the red rays are refracted, and 

there's a beautiful emerald flash for about a tenth of a second 
it's very short just pht! Like that. And it's a beautiful 
emerald. We've seen it here quite often. It has to be, as I say, 
a knife-edge sky, because if there's any diffusion or clouds you 
don't get it. We might get it tonight, but I don't know. 

Teiser: I have another story that's probably apocryphal, but I'll ask you 
about it. This is about you, and someone told me tha you were in 
the mountains in the summer, and you saw something that you thought 
you'd like to photograph in the snow. So the next winter you packed 
up all your equipment on an animal, and one glass plate, and went 
up into the mountains, took the picture, and came back. [Laughter] 

Adams: I never did such a damned thing in my life I You can discount that 
one. [Laughter] 

There is a story, however, about the Santa Fe Railroad. They 
had a terrible wreck at Durango in New Mexico, and they sent out 
their photographer from Chicago, who was just, you know, the 
railroad photographer. And he arrived on the train the next day, 
and he got out and walked up the hill and studied very carefully, 
and he took one picture and went back to Chicago. [Laughter] He 
said, "They told me to go out and get a picture, which I did." 

No, these stories are really remarkable. They probably stem 
from the fact that the picture of Half Dome ["Monolith, the Face of 
Half Dome"] was taken when I only had two plates left; I had taken 
many plates that day, but I only had two plates left, and I did one 
exposure of Half Dome with an ordinary K-2 filter. And that was my 
first insight into visualization, because I suddenly realized what 
the image was going to be the shadow of the cliff and the sky 
would be about the same in value; it would be dull, and it would not 
have anything at all of the romantic, really super-dramatic impact. 
And I had one more glass plate, and a very strong F filter, 
Wrattan F, and I put that on, and I made this picture this big one 
it's around the corner [on the studio wall]. I knew what was going 
to happen, and that's probably my first conscious visualization. 
But that was just because I'd packed this camera up through this 
God-awful snow; it was really very difficult getting there. I'd 
taken quite a few pictures, and how easy it would have been to have 
taken all the pictures before I got there, or made a few mistakes. 
See how chancey all this is. 

I sat down on one of the best plates I ever made, in Yosemite. 
It was of Tenaya Canyon from above. I leaned these plates against 
a chair, you see, and then I moved over to fix something else, and 
then I sat down, and one of these plates had fallen down. Cra-aa-ck, 


Adams: crunch. And here was this picture that I'd spent three hours 

climbing down a canyon I took three pictures, two of them weren't 
any good, something happened. This one was a beautiful negative. 
I just ruined it, you know. [Laughter] So, I mean, it's not always 
apocryphal. Happens all the time. 

Teiser: You know what you want, but you do take a number of exposures still, 
do you? 

Adams: What I do: if I come across a very exciting thing which I know is 
a picture, especially if I'm taking film pack, I'll take at least 
two, three, or four. But they're all the same. I don't "bracket" 
my exposures. What's called "bracketing" is nothing but indecision. 
[Laughter] When I read my values, I like to know what my exposure 
is. Once in a while, you'll think of another interpretation and do 
it a different way, and give a different development on it. But the 
idea like Margaret Bourke-White had, of just setting up and going 
from f/45 to f/3.2, up and down the line, knowing that one would be 
a better exposure than the others.... 

Teiser: I have my usual list of many questions here, but would you like to 
stop for today? 

Adams: I can go on some more. Let's finish the tape. 
Teiser: All right. 

Edwin Land and the Polaroid Camera System 

Teiser: Perhaps you have something in mind that continues what we were 

talking about now. For instance, what about the Land camera and 

Adams: This is a very important thing. I've always been interested in 

anything new in the mechanical aspect of things, and before 1950 
'47 or '48 I met Edwin Land. 

Teiser: How did you meet him? 

Adams: I heard him at an Optical Society lecture when he presented the 

Polaroid camera process, which was an historic event, and then we 
went to Cambridge [Massachusetts] and came over to this little 
laboratory, and he took my picture with a great big eight by ten 
camera. The process was in eight by ten format in the laboratories, 
He sat me down under lights and things, and exposed the picture, 
processed it; there it was, brown and of rather awful quality. It 


Adams: was his very first experimental work. But by gosh, it was a one- 
minute picture! And that excited me no end; I mean the thought 
that you could really do that. 

So I told him that I was interested, that I felt that he had 
something absolutely unique an historic step. So he said, "Well, 
I'd like you to be a consultant for the company (at one hundred 
dollars a month) and just send in your ideas." *And so that's where 
it all started. I'm now up to memo 2078. It's considerably more 
than one hundred dollars a month, thank God. But out of all this 
came the idea. They progressed from the brown tone to a clean 
black and white image. That seemed necessary; it was a first step. 
Of course, by 1950, 1952, he had the whole future planned right up 
to now and beyond. The development of color, the new cameras; it 
was all written out, and many groups in laboratories were given 
assignments to develop. And nothing like this has been known before. 
It's fantastic. 

At first I claimed that the thing against the print was the 
color, and that it should be black and white. I'm no real tech 
nician, but they would send out films, and I would take the camera 
out and try all kinds of experiments and then I'd send in my 
comments, and in good time came the black-and-white image. 

And then I urged we should have something for the professional, 
meaning something he could use in the conventional view camera. If 
Polaroid was not going to make a view camera, they have to use what 
we've got. So we must have an individual "pack." Well, in Palo 
Alto [where Edwin Land spent some time], we used to walk up and 
down the street in the evenings. Land said, "Well, how many people 
would use it?" I said, "Oh, gosh, I can think of fifty right now." 
Slight exaggeration, but I believed it. [Laughs] I said, "I'm a 
professional and I can think of nothing more wonderful than getting 
a Polaroid print out of a view camera in the four by five category." 

Well, today we have it, and you can see it on the wall [of the 
studio area, where prints are hung]. Some of those prints, a couple 
of them, at least, are very early ones, and the whole technique and 
the whole idea of the adapter and how it would work the technique 
is all theirs, but I was just promoting the image quality. It's a 
very interesting thing: a person employed by Polaroid who works 
along all the time (this would apply to any company) he's working 
with a film, say Type 52, and he knows what the film can do. Then 
he begins to look around for subjects that fit Type 52. Well, the 
whole thing becomes static, and a lot of beautiful pictures come 
in because there's nothing better for Type 52 than a foggy day in 
Point Lobos. But my job was, as a professional, to take it on 
certain assignments, real or contrived, and see where the film 
failed. That was the important thing. 


Adams: Here's the thing that I, Ansel Adams, was requested to do by their 
advertising agency, and I do it, and the scale of the film isn't 
adequate. So in a sense I was responsible for the present four by 
five, by pleading and begging and support. And now it's approaching 
a twenty-million-dollar-a-year sale, just alone on the four by five. 
But the multi-million dollar thing is in the camera which is for the 
public, and all the four by five, black and white, color, and the 
experimental material all this stuff couldn't exist without vast 
public sale of the popular products. 

Teiser: What are the implications of the four by five? That you have a 
permanent negative? 

Adams: You have several varieties. You have Type 1, which is a very high- 
contrast print which is used in the graphic arts, and is really 
quite remarkable because you can make screened images of it. You 
put an engraving screen in front of the negative and paste the 
resulting pictures right on a sheet with type, and re-photograph it 
for "offset" purposes. You can also do all kinds of fancy, really 
very interesting aesthetic experiments, because this has only a one 
to two-and-a-half step range. You can exaggerate textures. (You 
can do a texture image of that drab cloth, greatly exceeding its 
original contrast.) Type 52 is the standard high-speed film, 500 at 
least; they say 400, but my exposure trials usually give 500-plus. 
It has a limited exposure scale as does color, but it gives a 
beautiful print. 

Then there's Type 57, which they call their 3000 film, which is 
for me 4000 ASA daylight, the fastest film that was ever made. It's 
extraordinary. Sitting in here, at dusk, the light would be almost 
too bright for it. But you can work at night with available light 
and get the feeling of environmental lighting. I've used some film 
up to 20,000 ASA, experimental film fantastic stuff. 

Then there's the Type 55 PN, which gives you both the negative 
print and the negative. It's quite remarkable; not fast. It's 
quite slow about 50-64 ASA. Then there's the Type 58, which is 
Polacolor, four by five, and the pack film, Type 108. Then there's 
a new camera, the Aladdin (which is a temporary name I guess they'll 
use it), which is totally different and absolutely remarkable. 

Then they have a very high-speed film that they use for 
oscilloscope photography around 10,000 ASA. And they have also a 
marvelous material, which people don't take advantage of as they 
should, called Type 47, which is one of the sharpest transparencies 
for slides. And you have ways of controlling contrast with this 

Teiser: It's used in laboratories and industry. 


Adams: I have a whole collection of slides in which photographs are 

projected on a screen with the standard lantern-style projector. 
It is remarkable. They tried it one time with a 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 
projector, but it didn't get over, and it was too bad because the 
images were so sharp and so beautiful such a great range to them. 

Then they also have another material known as PolaLine 146-L 
which gives a very high contrast transparency. If you want to do a 
graph or a page of type, it would be perfect. Because of the 
particular chemistry and the physical system involved, this is the 
sharpest image available to date. The diffusion is within a very, 
very short angle. 

I've always considered the Polaroid process as an intensely 
creative one, not only because of the inherent beauty of the 
material, which has, if you want to speak photo-scientif ically, a 
linear scale and cannot be duplicated by any ordinary print. But it 
also has the element of immediacy. You see exactly what you're 
getting. When you're making a picture under static conditions, you 
can make an immediate correction. Or if you're working in fast 
situations, once you have one picture you know what the others are 
going to be. 

There is a new aesthetics involved in this immediacy, and 
that's what I think is so important. 

I'm talked out! 

Harroun: Your photographs on the backs of Aperture those are marvelous. 
They must have had 

Adams: Well, I'm responsible for a lot of those. Not my own, but other 
people trying to get good images with the process. 

Teiser: Yours must have had a tremendous impact. 

Adams: I was one of the first ones that used it. Yes, I guess I was the 
almost first one outside the company. Paul Caponigro and a few 
others used it, but I'm the one that totally believed in it. 

And a typical instance in a day or so I'm getting a new pack 
of film, something experimental the Type 55, in which we think 
we've made a breakthrough. Well, it's so complex technically I 
couldn't begin to understand it, but I go out and make some pictures, 
and the breakthrough is valid if I get a good picture and a good 
negative. And does it have the scale, etc., required? 

Teiser: It will have a negative? 


Adams: This is the 55. It has the negative.* 
[End Tape 5, Side 2] 

[Interview V 20 May 1972] 
[Begin Tape 6, Side 1] 

Mortens en 

Teiser: Let me ask you one more question that has to do, indirectly, with 
Group f/64. Why was William Mortensen considered so dreadful by 
you and the others? 

Adams: Mortensen represented about the lowest ebb of pictorialism, a very 

literary approach through his titles, his mannerisms and techniques 
"abrasion tones" and matrix masks oh, I can't think of the word 
it's things you print through that give the appearance of canvas 
it's texture screens! He was imitating some of the worst of the 
Romantic painting, and using Roman letters for inscriptions, and all 
kinds of manipulation. It just seemed to be as far from photography 
as possible. He still is very popular in some circles, but for us 
he was the anti-Christ. We stood for exactly the opposite of 
everything he represented. 

The interesting thing is that he had a man named Paul I don't 
know whether that's the first name or the last name who helped him 
write or actually wrote the book Mortensen on the Negative, which 
has many very fine ideas in it. I was quite embarrassed later to 
find that he had anticipated some of my pet ideas of technique; 
controlled exposure and development of the negative, etc. (But not 
the Zone System developed around 1940.) The book is very good; it's 
just that the illustrations are such rather sad examples. A very 
interesting thing is that in all of the history of flagrant 
pictorialism, you don't find it has important museum recognition. 
The pictorialists call their exhibitions "salons." When I went to 
St. Louis about 1938, some of the museums might have such shows, but 
now I don't think they elect to touch it because the motive is 
"hobbyist." It's awfully hard to put your finger on it. You say 
it's bad taste and the answer is, "Who are you to say it's bad 
taste?" What is taste? What's good taste? 

*Did not work out! [A. A.] 


Adams: I don't have Mortensen's book here. I had it once; somebody stole 

it. But the illustrations were just over-retouched, over-modulated. 
He'd take these young nude models and grease them so they'd shine, 
you know. [Laughter] And they'd be in poses 

Teiser: Didn't he write a book on the print, too? 

Adams: Yes. And Monsters and Madonnas was one book he wrote. [Laughter] 
Well, they were like a bad dream. They're still publishing 
portfolios of Mortensen's, printing from his negatives. I guess 
the P.S.A. Journal has been advertising them. I remember writing 
a letter in which I suggested he negotiate oblivion. My father 
persuaded me it wouldn't have the desired effect. The controversy 
was kind of silly. 

But anyway, his work was the exact opposite of what f/64 
stood for. He would have classes down at Laguna Beach, and wealthy 
capitalists from the East would come out and spend a thousand 
dollars, I was told, for a weekend. And after they'd returned home, 
all their work would look like his. I remember how these men would 
get together, say in Chicago, and they'd hire a model for the 
weekend. The model would be a platinum blond, usually wearing 
nothing but high-heeled shoes. You know, that kind of thing! 
[Laughter] All very decent, but all done with such conventional 
poses of holding a jar on their shoulder, etc., and they'd have 
names like "Dessa" or "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair." It was so 
obviously phony! All made-up and greased up. It was a way of 
getting highlights on nudes. In fact, some of the early photograph 
ers did this sometimes in portraits to accentuate the highlights on 
the face. And in the early days, they had to chalk the face, 
because the film wasn't sensitive to anything but blue light, so 
the face would come out over-dark. Anybody with a dark complexion 
or with freckles usually had to be well powdered. Any hand would 
show all kinds of spots. Anything that went to the pink, yellow or 
red and would go down in value. So a lot of the daguerrotypes were 
taken in rather strong, soft daylight, and probably powdered up a 
bit like in television now. On television they have to powder my 
head so it won't shine and blow the tube. (That's what happened on 
the moon.) 

Vision and Photography 

Teiser: To take you back still further into the past, let me ask you if 

your motives, for your earliest photographs, were in effect the same 
as your motives for taking photographs now? 


Adams: A motive is a subconscious thing; I wouldn't know how to answer that 
question. I think that in the earlier days, I was technically and 
aesthetically naive, so many of my early photographs have a much 
simpler and more direct statement, and all the ones that are the best 
are the ones that are motivated by "instant recognition." and then 
just doing them and having the technique to back it up. Which I 
didn't have in the earlier days, so I'd have many an exciting vision 
but zero results because I wouldn't know what to do. Now we know 
much more, but at the cost of a certain spontaneity, if that's the 
term you want to use. It's very hard to say this, but as you get 
experienced and you see a lot of work, in any art form, you can't 
help being influenced, and you automatically judge and check your 
reactions to your experience. 

Today I went out trying to get this picture of this very 
marvelous old dead tree. It's looked the same for ten years, as if 
it's going to blow over. But the sky is usually blah it's just 
nothing. Today there were some rather interesting clouds. I was 
setting up the camera (and there are only a few places you can do it 
for this subject) and I had to wait until those clouds behaved. See 
now, in the past I would have just seen a cloud and thought, "There's 
a cloud or a tree'" I wouldn't have seen the cloud-tree relationship 
so precisely. And when I met Strand, I found that was one of his 
basic themes the marvelous, precise relationship of "this to that." 
Trying to get a moment when all the branches in this tree were in the 
cloud. If they were against blue sky they might be "lost." And you 
wait until things would be right. And a couple of times it was right. 

In the 1920s I wouldn't have been in the least bit aware of such 
relationships. I can look back and see many photographic situations 
when I really missed the moment. The idea was there, but I didn't 
visualize that perfection of arrangement. Some photographers never 
have that facility; others have it to an extreme degree. 

There's one wonderful photograph by Stieglitz at Lake George, 
the porch where the white turned post is seen adjacent to the window 
and window edge. There's a thirty-second of an inch hairline 
separating them. And it's this hairline that really suggests space 
and organization. You see, the spectator is convinced, or feels, or 
is aware of the fact that the photographer was aware of the relation 
ship. And I have one, that I show in my slides, of a picture that 
was done with a Polaroid at the Rochester Institute of Technology of 
a building of the "Greek revival" period. Here these marvelous 
columns are seen in the near/far mode in exaggerated scale. In the 
first one I did, the curve of the near column broke into the 
rectangular pedestal of the column in the back, and I realized when 
I saw this in the Polaroid-Land print; I'd missed it in the ground 
glass. All I had to do was to move the lens a little bit to the 
right (two inches), which allowed it to see around the column. It 


Adams: created a little "hairline" of separation which succeeded in 

maintaining the integrity of the curved shape. The foreground 
pillar wasn't lost in juxtaposition with the back shape; a "merger" 
was avoided. 

Those things are hard to describe verbally. And of course when 
you do overlook one, then you try to justify it. You put a lot of 
what they call "phrases" into the equation <o make it come out to 
zero. [Laughter] Then in about a year you may look at it, and you 
wonder, "Well how in the world did I ever get by with that?" 

I'll see somebody's work for the first time, and that's the first 
thing you see the disturbing mergers and distractions. You look at 
a print, and then you find your eyes going around to the spots and 
bad edges and all the funny things a photograph can contain. You can 
put your finger over one of them and say, "Well that's an interruption." 
They see the problem for the first time. I can go back and get some 
of my early work and do exactly the same thing because I didn't see 
the defects to begin with. 

More and more as you work, you try to visualize the image ahead 
of exposure. It's more difficult with the little cameras, but of 
course the "saving instrument" is the single-lens reflex, because 
there you really see the image just what the lens is seeing. 

Teiser: With the rangefinder camera, you partly guess at it? 

Adams: The rangefinder or the viewfinder is not on lens axis. Now, if I'm 
a long ways off, the parallax effect doesn't make any difference. 
But if I'm sitting here with you and my eye is the lens, your hair 
line, for example, is just touching the fossil. If this "eye" would 
be the finder it's usually off to the left I'll compose you as the 
finder sees it. But my lens sees you cutting in one inch on that 
fossil behind you. So that the composition is not as anticipated. 
The old Rolleiflex has this kind of vertical offset you have to raise 
the camera about two and a half inches to be sure the lens sees what 
the finder sees. 

Teiser: Doesn't the Rolleiflex have a compensating mechanism? 

Adams: Oh, the new one ^the single-lens one but not the double, the twin- 
lens design. What the twin-lens does is to tilt the viewer mechanism 
so that the plane focused on comes to the center of the field. But 
because the lens is taking the picture at a lower level, it can't 
take care of the parallax. You're only tilting the viewing lens. The 
distance of the lens from the subject determines the perspective. So 
with the Hasselblad single-lens (Buperwide) I must raise the tripod 
three inches to get just what I see in the finder. I compose very 
accurately with the finder but must make this adjustment when working 
with near/far subjects. After composing, I just crank the camera up 


exactly the difference in distance between the camera lens and the 
finder lens. Then the camera lens is seeing what the finder lens was 
seeing. I can show you a picture of that in my book, Camera and Lens, 
where there's quite a profound difference evident. 

Flash Mishaps 

Back to your earliest photographs, you were speaking the other day 
of the fact that you've been able to maintain photography as a 
commercial project and practice it as an art at the same time. Do 
you remember the first photographs for which you were paid? 

There's one very funny one that really is not of much consequence. 
My next-door neighbor taught at the Chinese school in Chinatown, and 
wanted a picture of her class. So, I had an old four by five camera 
(my first one) and a flash gun. You used to use flash powder 
magnesium very dangerous. You'd put a dynamite cap in this tray, 
and you'd pull down the tension cord, and you'd jet the safety catch. 
Many people have been blinded with this stuff firing in their faces. 
I figured out how much magnesium was needed and I looked at the table 
and it said, use four number three capsules. Well, I thought number 
three capsules were the small capsules. They happened to be the big 
capsules (each were four times the strength of the small ones). So I 
loaded this pan up with magnesium powder, held it over my head, pulled 
the slide from the camera, and checked if everything was ready to go. 
Then you open the shutter, fire the flash, then close the shutter. 
There wasn't any modern synchronization. So here were all these kids, 
and the teacher said, "Now look right at Mr. Adams and smile. Now I 
think it's all right, Mr. Adams." So I opened-bang-shut, and of course 
there was a large explosion. I used about fifteen times the amount of 
flash powder needed. Vast clouds of smoke rolled through the room, 
and the kids fell under their desks. We opened the windows, and the 
smoke poured out, and somebody put in a fire alarm. [Laughter] And 
of course it blackened the wall and ceiling where I was standing, and 
I was persona non grata. But it was understood, and forgiven in time. 

The developed negative was as dense as a stove lid, it was so 
damned over-exposed; about fifteen, sixteen times, I guess. But I 
took it to a friend who reduced it, and I got a pretty good print out 
of it. When I tried to take another picture of them, they'd 
disappeared. They were just terrified! 

Then I did a wedding. By that time I'd mastered the flash 
technique pretty well. I was standing in a house with a nice white 
colonial room, and the bride and groom were standing by the fireplace. 
So I set the flash off, and as it was right under the lintel, it 
blistered the paint for about four feet! [Laughter] 


Adams: Those were the first two things I was paid for, and they were both 
disasters. The clients were very kind I offered to pay for the 
lintel, but they said, "Oh no, we were going to do the room over 
anyway." Which was a lie the room was beautiful. But it was very 

And then another one later. I was doing the I think it was 
called the San Francisco "round table" a gtoup of the real bosses 
of San Francisco, big lawyers and financiers. They would meet at the 
Palace Hotel, and have this big "round table" lunch. Fortune magazine 
wanted me to photograph them. So I arranged with Mr. Lurie Louis 
Lurie was in that group and he was very helpful. 

One person was very nasty, but I called another and he said, "Oh 
sure, you can do it." I said, "Well, you know, it's quite a little 
job. To get you all, I'll have to be set up. When the lunch is 
through, you're going to have to spend maybe fifteen minutes with it." 
"Well, we'll do that," said my friend. 

Ron Partridge was helping me. (He is Imogen Cunningham's son.) 
I got the camera all set and everything looked fine. We were using 
large flash lamps. I had five lights. But at that time the only 
synchronization you could get was a switch that was built in the cable 
shutter release. You pressed in, opening the shutter, and also made 
electrical contact. Well, it usually works all right. The contact 
operates the flash. 

But this was one of the last buildings in San Francisco that 
still had direct current, instead of alternating current. And it 
appears that when you make such a contact with direct current, you 
get a flaming arc that is quite surprising when unexpected I 

So here I am. I got one picture, I thought. But I said, "Well, 
I'll have to get another one." So Ron tore around town almost 
arrested for speeding to find a contact device. In the meantime, 
I had a Rolleiflex, and I went up to every man with a flash gun and a 
globe (I had no film in the Rolleiflex, but I thought, "I'm going to 
have to keep this going") so I go "click, click, click." One of them 
said, "I've got a date." I said, "Listen, Ron will be back in a 
minute. And after all, this is a Fortune magazine job I" 

So back comes Ron with this new flash contact, and we got 
another picture. But he handled it separately. I counted; I'd say, 
"One, two, three." On "two" I opened the shutter and on "three" he 
operated the flash. 

Teiser: You were holding the lens open while he shot the flash globes? 

Adams: I was holding the lens open. So I'd say, "One, two, bang!" Close. 
Then, "Gentlemen, you can go home." 


Adams : 


Then they said, "Well, I want to see those little pictures you made; 
I'll bet they're the best of the bunch." 

I got letters later [laughter]. And I couldn't tell them. I 
said, "Well, I had a disaster with that too. That was a very bad 
day, gentlemen." [Laughter] That's the only way I could have held 
them fifteen, twenty minutes sitting there. Such things happen to 

Did you get a good picture in the end? 

Oh, yes. Fine. I still have a print somewhere, 
valuable historical image. 

It's a rather 

Now it'd be so simple! You'd take it with available light, or 
just bounce a couple of lights around the room. (It's called "bounce 
light," where you direct strong lights against the wall.) You get an 
effect that looks like available light. If I want to duplicate the 
light in this room, the only way would be to reflect it, or "bounce" 
it. And once you put a light directly on the subject you get harsh 
shadows and you're in trouble. But then you were working with slow 
film at 32-64 ASA at the highest. And now we work with 400, 500 and 

Photographic Printing Papers 

Adams: The first serious job was Parmelian Prints of the Sierras, a 

portfolio of original prints. And I did a frontispiece for the Book 
Club* edition of [Robinson] Jeffers's poems, which (I'm very embarrassed) 
has faded. That was done in 1928 or 1929. We didn't know about fixing 
and washing. The effect was probably accelerated a bit by the 
character of the paper they used in the book probably a lot of sulfur 
in it. 

Teiser: That brings up how did it happen that Dassonville put the emulsion on 
the Taos Pueblo book paper? Wasn't there any that was adequate? 

Adams: Nothing like that. The idea was to have the paper the same throughout. 
The special rag paper had to be ordered anyway, because you did not 
then just go and buy such papers in book quantity. 

We ordered an ample amount in rolls, and Dassonville coated a 
certain number of them with his bromide emulsion. 

Teiser: Could that be done now in a very expensive book? 

*Book Club of California. 


Adams: Oh yes, but you would have troubles. With rag paper and the papers 
used for platinum prints, the emulsion sank into the paper fiber 
rather than lying on a baryta coating. The emulsion was pretty 
thick, and that gave quite a quality of "depth" quite different from 
anything you see today. The papers today are baryta-coated. Baryta 
is a clay, and the paper fibers are filled with this clay, making it 
of course very smooth. Then the emulsion 4s deposited on top of the 
clay. Then, to get different textures, such as "pebble," "silk," and 
"tapestry" surfaces, the papers are put through calendars, a calendar 
meaning a roll with a pattern. It could be a perfectly smooth 
surface to begin with and then ruined by this treatment! Practically 
all of these "pictorial" papers you see are calendared into surface 
patterns. The best papers today are chemically very pure, given a 
neutral baryta coating, then the various emulsions. In the emulsion, 
the degree of gloss may have something to do with the starch grains 
that are incorporated. If you put more starch in the emulsion, you 
reduce the gloss. Now, I'm quite sure that today they have more 
complex chemicals, but that's what Dassonville did he could make a 
very, very flat surface quite "dead:" no gloss at all. Or he could 
leave all of the starch out, and get quite a nice brilliant finish. 

He hated to leave the starch out, because he didn't like it too 
brilliant. I wanted it as brilliant as I could get it. 

Now what we can do today, we can take papers of that type and 
get all the advantage of the natural paper color, and then we can 
spray them with a neutral lacquer like Krylon or Goodman lacquer. 
As far as we know, that's permanent, but putting a varnish on them 
can be fatal. They used varnish in printing in earlier days, and it 

We put a blancophor into the paper to increase the whiteness, 
and that works well for daylight. Any light that has a preponderance 
of blue rays in it excites these blancophors and creates a fluorescent 
effect. Some of the papers have that, and there is a difference in 
the whites when you look at them. But it drives the engravers crazy 
because it fools them in their exposures. These emulsions are 
sensitive to fluorescence and ultraviolet. And that increases 
contrast. Giving the engravers a sepia-toned print is also bad, 
because their films aren't sensitive to such colors. 

See, when an engraver makes a color reproduction he has to make 
color-separation negatives first with three color-sensitive films 
red, green, and blue or the complementaries. And they have to be 
made, of course, on panchromatic film. In the old days, when they 
had ordinary or orthochromatic emulsion, it was terribly difficult to 
get the red. They had to fake the red sometimes, and color 
reproductions could be very bad. When they get their three black and 
white separation negatives, representing the three colors, then they 
can transfer the images to their "plates." 


Writing the Basic Photography Books 

Adams: Going into reproductions, I did an article for the London magazine, 
Studio. They liked the article and asked me if I would do the book 
on photography in their "How to Do It" series, in which they had 
Levon West, the etcher, who later left etching and took up photography 
and was known as Ivan Dmitri. He was a pretty good etcher. His book 
on etching, I understand, is excellent. He was a fair photographer. 

Well, I did this book, and now we're thinking of reprinting it 
just as an historical object, because it was at the time one of the 
most concise works on straight photography. 

Teiser: What is it called? 

Adams: It's called Making a Photograph. The first edition was in 1935. I 
asked for good reproductions, and they agreed. The plates were 
beautifully made, printed on very smooth paper, and tipped in which, 
of course, is an ideal way to do it. It gives the illusion of being 
originals, but if one corner gets dog-eared, or if people lift them 
out, you know, you can get into trouble. 

Now there's no need of that at all with modern double offset. 
You just print text and images on the same paper. You use smooth 
paper, and then you can apply lacquer with what is called tint block 
on the press. Lacquer increases brilliancy. 

But Making a Photograph in 1935 was the only book of its kind 
known that was quite that simple and had anything like those repro 
ductions. They were simply marvelous. 

I remember going into Chicago one time, waiting for a train, 
and went to a big bookshop, where there were a lot of photographic 
books, and I pointed to mine and I said, "How's that going?" He 
said, "Oh, it's going fairly well. It's written by one of those 
highbrow Englishmen." And I didn't have the heart to tell him that 
I was the author. 

It's interesting that a photographer living in San Francisco 
would have his first book published in London, or the first book of 
any consequence in the instructional sense. Now that I say that, it 
sounds very conceited, but still it has a function that's very, very 
good, and there would be very little in it that would be changed. 
Of course it was done long before the zone system appeared, so there 
was no real analysis of exposure development and control. 

Teiser: Your Morgan & Morgan Basic Photo series 


Adams: First there was Camera and Lens Book One. That's now been revised; 
it's a rather handsome 304-page book. Now I'm working on revising 
the others The Print. The Negative, Natural-Light Photography, and 
Artificial-Light Photography. And then Book Six is the Polaroid 
manual [Polaroid Land Photography Manual^. The revised edition will 
probably come out, if all goes well, very soon. But as soon as a 
book's out, they've got a new process! The first edition of that 
was very bad, because PolaColor came out right after the book was 
published; I knew there was to be color, but I had no idea when it 
was coming, and they couldn't tell me. So we had a filler inserted 

And now the new process, the SX-70 system, which is a fantastic 
achievement that will be in the revision. God knows what else 
Land's got up his sleeve. 

Teiser: It must have been hard to sit down and write. 

Adams: Well, I'm very glib. I need an awful lot of editing, but I'm very 
glib. When I get going I can write very fast quantities. 

Teiser: But those books are so precise. 

Adams: Yes, but if you know your subject you can write. The difficulty is 
checking to be sure you have all the details right, and when you 
read your own manuscript you find that you often overlooked important 

I got a letter today. I mentioned a tripod number, 403 733 A, 
Goldcrest. Well, this man writes, "There isn't any such tripod. 
The Goldcrest people say it probably means 337 A." What it was, you 
see, I'd put down number 403 337 A, and the typesetter made a 
mistake in his composing machine, and I didn't catch that in time. 
I'm going to have now an editor that will do nothing in the world 
except check word for word and number for number. 

Teiser: Did anyone read over them? 

Adams: Yes, but not the way it should have been. Not a technical person. 

I had another instance just the other day. A man wrote, "In 
your warm-tone Glycin formula [page 14, The Print] , you say 'potassium 
bromide, four grams', and right under it you say 'potassium bromide, 
40 cc at 10 percent solution'." I never caught that. It should have 
said "or" because that's the same thing. He said, "Why did you want 
to put that in? Why didn't you just use more bromide?" Of course, 
anybody who knew about it would realize they were the same, but 
the word "or" is left out. 


Adams: You say that's easy, but there's hardly a scientific book that comes 
out that doesn't have a page of errata in it, and some have ten or 
twelve pages. I've seen one very complicated thing on the photo- 
physical chemistry of photography that had four or five pages of 
errata slight changes of formula, etc. And of course unless you're 
a mathematician, you wouldn't realize it, but when a mathematician 
tries to work something out and he finds something wrong, he is 

Teiser: When you work on such technical things, do you take whole days, or 
do you take a whole period when you don't work on photographs? 

Adams: Well, realistically I should just cold-bloodedly set aside a month 
for this and a month for that , but sometimes I go at it for several 
days, and then suddenly the curtain rings down. I've completely 
lost the facility to think. I'm loaded with work continuously. So I 
go on to do something else. And when I did the book on the University 
[Fiat Lux] , I couldn't stay more than three or four days in one place 
because after that I just stopped "seeing." I could say, "Oh, I have 
to do a picture of that building," and it meant nothing. So I'd 
"pogo-stick" to another campus and then have several days of 
excitement, and then all of a sudden you don't see any more and you 
must move on. 

The Zone System 

Teiser: Your writings on the Zone System 

Adams: There are so many versions of the Zone System. They all come out 
right, but the best one, the clearest one, is in the Polaroid Land 
[Photography] Manual. People buy the Manual just for that, and I 
never realized that. It is a kind of distillation and applies the 
principles step by step, in much clearer style than the other 

Teiser: You said that Minor White's article or pamphlet on the Zone System 
was an extension of your work? 

Adams: He has a booklet. He's doing a new one, which I haven't seen yet, 
which goes into the mystical interpretation of photography. It 
worries me a little because I think he's inclined to go off the beam 
and be inexplicable (is that the word to use?). It's a form of 
"camera as therapy," and I don't know; between you and me, it's not 
entirely healthy, it's too mystical. It's a constant justification 
and explanation, where photography should be a rather simple thing. 


Adams: But he has some very good exercises, and details for working out the 
Zone System, for students. I find it very complex, and he makes a 
few errors, which I think are deplorable. It isn't whether he agrees 
with me. I didn't invent the Zone Syst<fa. I simply codified 
sensitometry. If you want to juggle with it and say, "Well, you 
know, you can't print Zone I, so we'll start with Zone II," that 
isn't scientific. That isn't sensitometry, you see. [Laughter] I 
can't say, "Look, you're hurting my system. You can't do that." I 
just say, "It's not right. It doesn't stand the test; you have to 
begin one end of the exposure scale at Zone I." 

There's a man in Sacramento who thinks he can get by with five 
zones. Well, if he wants to do it, okay. But it's still not right 
in sensitometry. The values that we can refer to with confidence 
are in geometric ratios. And if you know anything about lenses, 
you know how the stops of lenses progress from, say, f/8, f/11, f/16, 
and so on. The point is that the f/8 means the focal ratio of the 
diameter of the stop to the focal length of the lens at infinity. 
So f/8 means the diameter of that stop is one-eighth of its focal 
length at infinity. So therefore f/8 is a factor number that relates 
to any focal length lens, one inch to twenty inches. F/8 will always 
be a stop in that ratio, and will always transmit the same amount of 
light, no matter what the size of the lens is. 

Then you go on f/11, f/16, so you think f/16 would be one-half 
of f/8, that it would let in one-half the light. But you're working 
with the area of a circle, and that means f/16 is letting in one- 
fourth the amount of light f/8 does, because a circle one-half inch 
across has only one-fourth the area of a circle one inch across. To 
set one-half the exposure you multiply eight by the square root of 
two, 1.414 (here's geometry again) and then you get f/11. 3. You 
actually progress at 11.3, 16, 22.6, 32, 45.2 those would be the 
exact numbers, but we approximate them by just saying 8, 11, 16, and 
22, etc. 

Well, some people don't know what a square root is. They know 
what a square is but not a root. It's just basic geometry. Now, 
there used to be the old U.S. system, which meant "universal system," 
and they started at f/16 being the same as U.S. 16. And then, f/8 
passed two times, f/4 passed four times, f/2 passed eight times the 
amount of light, with ascending numbers like 16, 32, 64, 128, 256. 
Every one was doubled, and it meant 2X, 4X, 8X, 16X, and 32X instead 
of 4X, 16X, 64X, 256X, etc. 

The Europeans, instead of having f/8 as the base, used f/9 but 
the same thing. You get f/12.7, f/18, f/25 the ratio is always the 
same. And ASA speed numbers are 64, 125, 256, and between each of 
those are two other numbers like 32, 40, 50, 64; 100, 125, 256. 
And if you once get that geometric idea in your mind, fine! But 


Adams: meters come out with exposure values with arithmetic numbers, but 

which have geometric significance all very confusing. On the Weston 
5 meter, number twelve was equal to 100 candles per square foot, 
number thirteen equal to 200, number fourteen equal to 400. So in 
reading these numbers, you really have to think geometrically. But 
many people don't think, they just take for granted a number on the 
dial. They put it on the "arrow" and they read the exposure. You're 
just pressing buttons without any knowledge of what's happening, and 
I think that's very serious. And the exposure formula is so 
absolutely simple once you know it. You don't need any dials; you 
take the readings of your subject. 

A typical example would be if I want to make a picture in 
Yosemite, and it's a contrasty day, but I want to get a tone value 
III in the tree shadows, and those tree shadows read 6.5 c/ft^. I 
put 6.5 c/ft on Zone HI, go to 13 on IV and 25 on V, which is the 
"geometric mean." So the exposure is 1/25 of a second at the lens 
stop number, which is the equivalent of the square root of the ASA 
speed number. And people collapse. And then you try to explain 
again and say, "Well, that's nothing. Now you know you have 25 
opposite V, so that's 1/25 of a second; that's simple. And if you're 
using ASA 64, the square root is eight, so it would be 1/25 at f/8" 
(that's your base exposure; you don't need a dial). Or if you're 
using 125 ASA, that would be f/11, or ASA 250 would be f/16. You 
just memorize a little table of squares. Kodachrome at 25 would be 
f/5. The whole idea of photographic exposure is really a geometric 
system. That doesn't mean that you don't work between stops to 
balance and control. The Polaroid electric eye camera is extremely 
sensitive, and you don't think of any f stops or shutter speed there; 
you know it's calibrated to render a single surface luminance with 
a value VI. And there's reason for that. It automatically registers 
the values in this infinite series of adjustments, but you can make 
it lighter or darker, according to the contrast of the scene, by 
using the lighten-darken (L.D.) control. But the theory is exactly 
the same . 

Meters and Automation 

Adams: In the earlier days, we did everything "by grace and by God" and by 

tables. I had a little meter a tint meter that would use sensitive 
paper and there would be two reference colors, light and dark green, 
or light and medium green. And you'd hold it in the light and count 
seconds until the sensitive paper was the same color as one of the 
reference colors. But of course it's very hard to do, to be exact, 
because your eye doesn't like to make that kind of decision, you see, 


Adams: especially if there's an edge. But you count, say, fifteen seconds 
and then you relate that to some mark, and you set the exposure. It 
was fairly accurate if your eyes weren't too tired. 


Then I had extinction meters, where you look in and see a wedge, 
and you look at the scene through it, and you read the highest number 
you can see it might be six, it might be fifteen. The tragedy was, 
if you came out of a very bright light you'd see a very low number, 
and then the longer you looked at it, the higher and higher and 
higher the number you'd see. [Laughter] So you had to sort of balance 
that out. If I was sitting here now, I could look in this room and 
I'd trust what I read. But if I were looking out at the ocean for a 
while and then tried to read in the room, it would take me about two 
minutes before I was confident that I was seeing the correct number. 

Then the Weston meter came out, which used the selenium cell, 
which is a self-generating cell selenium on one side. As light 
strikes this material, it creates energy and works an ammeter. The 
Weston cell was a great invention, and it's used in many, many ways, 
and it's probably one of the most accurate and dependable of all the 
meter devices. The only thing that can go off is the little 
electrical ammeter, which is working on a very low current. The 
current is just generated in the cell entirely by light. There's no 
batteries in the meter at all. 

Then the next step was the cadmium sulphide cell, which is 
extremely sensitive and is operated with a very small battery. But 
it is inclined to be very erratic. It has to be primed. You have to 
show it the light for a little while. That's the average cell, 
although the one Dr. Land uses is apparently "capsulated" and gives 
immediate response. 

And now most of the meters out on the market Weston Nine and 
the Gossen meter and the Pentax and all those in the cameras are 
based on little sulphide cells. 

Then there's the standard visual photometer, like the S.E.I. 
meter (made in England). That's probably the best thing of its kind 
made within the price; you can get photometers up to four figures. 
But this one has a battery and a light, and you adjust this light to 
a fixed brightness, which properly illuminates the comparison cube. 
Now you match the light from the scene through a little telescope by 
operating the main rheostat until it matches the fixed brightness 
spot. That gives you the photometric measurement. But that is using 
a fixed value to match not like the extinction meter, which depended 
entirely on whether the eye could see a number or not in a dark field. 

The S.E.I, meter has a diameter of field of view of one degree. 
They've increased it a little bit lately it's one and a half now, I 
think. So that means I can take the shadow on that tree trunk, and 


Adams: I can take the white rock, and the highlight on that lamp, and the 

white picture frame with the picture on the white mat from here, you 
see. You just put the dot on it, and turn this thing until the values 
match. That's really a great invention, because it gives you command 
of what you're doing. All on the assumption that your shutter and 
your diaphragm are correct and that your film and developer are 
properly functioning. 

[End Tape 6, Side 1] 
[Begin Tape 6, Side 2] 
Teiser: Have you had any experience with the light cell in the camera? 

Adams: That's a new development which is primarily a gadget to sell cameras 
to indulgent and wealthy amateurs. It's extremely clever and many 
are extremely well made. If it is a meter which averages the light 
coming in over the entire field it's like holding a Weston meter up 
to the field of view. If it's a spot meter, then you have the 
inevitable selection of what you point it at, because the spot 
doesn't know; it will respond to the tree shadow, and to the water, 
and will control the exposure accordingly. I've made tests with the 
new Leicaflex, and it was extremely accurate a beautiful piece of 
equipment but I still had to make up my mind, putting the spot on a 
snowbank or on a tree, and the exposure will always be on the 
geometric mean. 

Now they have new meters which are a combination of the two, 
which probably is a little better. But the camera can't make the 
aesthetic selection if it is purely automatic. It can approximate 
it. But as 90 percent of the pictures taken are of people, most 
cameras and systems are calibrated to flesh tones. So if you point 
this box, this finder with the spot meter, at the skin of a person, 
you will get a reading which will put that on the proper point on the 
exposure scale. God help you for anything else, because everything 
you point it at will come out at the same point on the scale. 

I went through this whole complex scene in Yosemite with my 
photometer, and the Leica meter was very accurate. But still, that 
was just the meter. Now what do I do_ with it? Do I want to place 
that tree shadow on Zone V? I might want it at Zone II. Where do 
I put it? So the only way you can control that situation is to set 
your ASA and set the related lens stop. You then control the shutter 
speed dial until the needles match, and then you have the candles per 
square foot. 

Teiser: So it's more trouble to override the automatic system than not? 


Adams: Oh, it's terrible. It's much better to have a separate meter, read 
it and set the camera accordingly. But then some automatic cameras 
don't like to be "overridden." I've se^n people with cameras that 
cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars completely frustrated; they 
had no idea what was happening, and they were getting terrible 
results. The camera was doing the best it could beautiful optics 
but the user had no knowledge of what to do. 

Teiser: I suppose there will be a whole lot of people who adapt themselves 
to the automatic camera. 

Adams: Oh, there are now, yes, to a certain extent. But see, where the 

Polaroid is so far ahead of them is that with the Polaroid electric 
eye receptor you have the ability to make it lighter or darker. Now 
that's not too easy in the standard camera. You have to change stops 
or shutter speeds. Well, what are you changing, you see? In the 
Polaroid you can change two stops to light and one to dark. They're 
going to try to get it two stops each way. And that's a very 
intricate little system, but they can put it on their very cheap 
cameras. And when you press the shutter it releases a certain amount 
of current that controls the electronic mechanism. 

Now we are getting those cameras that have electric drives. The 
Hasselblad electric is just simply winding the film and setting the 
shutter. It doesn't control the exposure, thank God. But you can 
put it on sequence, take a picture every second, or you can just 
press the button and have one image. They sent me one, but really, 
I still have enough strength to wind the film! [Laughter] But it 
really is wonderful when you have these 70-millimeter magazines with 
many, many exposures to make in sequence. You're doing, say, a 
series of portraits, and you're talking, and you just press this 
button, and press and press; it's "sh-sh-sh," like that. But that's 
not exposure reading; it's something else. 

Now some equipment has electronic shutter control, and they're 
having a little trouble. They're awfully complex, you know. Polaroid 
is the only one that, so far, has been able to make these things in 
quantity. Everybody else has had trouble. I guess Kodak is all 
right with the Instamatic. And they use the same general principle. 
Unfortunately, that principle of electronic exposure was not patent- 
able not controllable by Polaroid. The thing was patented many, 
many years ago, and it's now in the public domain. It wasn't used in 
shutters. It was used in scientific instruments. It was used first 
in engraving, so no matter what happened to the fluctuating arc lights, 
the exposure would always be the same. And this was called an 
accumulator. There would be a little meter on a copy board in the 
engraving camera. They'd set the exposure, say, for three minutes, 
and then the meter would take care of it and balance all lighting 
variations. All these things are so interesting technically, and 
they all had their roots in various applications, long before they 
were thought of in actual field camera work. 


Technique in Relation to Aesthetics 

Teiser: When you were a youngster, were you interested in optical instruments? 
Adams: Oh, yes, I loved instruments always been an instrument lover. 
Teiser: Were you interested in your father's astronomical instruments? 

Adams: Yes, oh yes. Of course, we only had a small telescope, 
go up to Lick Observatory, see the big telescope. 

We used to 

The thing to get over is this: that I think my contribution, 
if there is one (the creative work is something which only critics 
of photographic history can say whether I did any pictures of 
importance or not I'm conceited enough to think I did a few) the 
main thing is that, as far as I know, I'm the first one that 
codified technique in relation to aesthetics. You see, now there 've 
been many, many people who've codified technique in relation to just 
facts exposure and instrumental control and all that, and far 
beyond anything I've done in physical accuracy. You know, when 
you're making photographs in terms of nanoseconds and tracing spark 
gaps, and doing things from the U-2 plane with slit-shutter cameras 
at sixty or seventy thousand feet or higher (and you can see gravel 
on the railroad beds) these are optical achievements that are 
infinitely beyond me. 

But as far as I know, and as far as other people know, I'm the 
first one to have said you can control exposure and development in 
relation to aesthetics, not just in relation to the photometric 
equivalent. And the photometric equivalent means the light measure 
ment which has the proportionate values of the subject, getting a 
negative, and then, with light passing through the negative, getting 
the value equivalent of the negative on the print. It's called the 
photometric equivalent, and it has nothing to do with expression. It 
relates to an approximate simulation of reality. And, in aesthetics, 
we attempt departures from reality, whether we do them by trick and 
by guess in the darkroom or whether we do them all ahead of time by 
visualization . 

I remember one of Minor White's great achievements. By the way, 
he's one of the great photographers, and I have the utmost affection 
and respect for him, so when I criticize what he did with the Zone 
System, that just means the difference of technical application. 
But he did a series of photographs of performances of Ibsen's Ghosts 
in San Francisco, and in doing this, he wanted to give the nonliteral 
feeling of the unworldliness of the characters. It was done very 
simply by just using the Zone System, placing the skin values very 
high. So all these people in the images are white very pale, very 


Adams: unreal. And then, you see, it's not just value. If you go up the 
top of the curve, it flattens off, and your contrasts become less, 
so the face would become smoother, much higher in value, much less 
defined. But you can visualize all tha*t. So that is, I think, the 
contribution which is now being pretty well accepted. 

Science and the Creative Photographer 

Adams: I had the funny comment of a photo technician from, I think it was, 
Eastman. He says, "You know I'm up there in that pretty hard-boiled 
lab, and we're working with some of the most complex photochemistry 
and physics that's going today but," he says, "when I want to know 
something about photography, I read your books." [Laughter] I said, 
"Well, thank you. I understand the difference." You should see 
sometime one of the technical manuals! You know, it's just up in the 
domain of higher mathematics and advanced physical chemistry. But 
everything has its place, and that's what enables them to make the 
materials that we people can throw around in a so-called creative 

Even at this late date, they are not absolutely sure what 
happens in the formation of the latent image. You've got a silver 
crystal, which is a nice-looking triangular crystal different sizes 
I forget the name of it it's got bevels and edges, but it's primarily 
a triangle. And that is silver halide, composed of silver bromide, 
chloride or iodide in different proportions. And then, light strikes 
that crystal and changes it to the "latent image." It's a matter of 
the quantum theory, if you want to really describe it, which I can't. 
It relates to the production of "electron holes" in this crystal, and 
when this condition is established by the action of light, the 
crystal is then developable, and these holes then attract developing 
agents, and the silver crystal is reduced to metallic silver. That's 
a very crude description. A scientist would probably be aghast but 
I mean, that's about what happens. 

So then when you develop your image, your image is metallic 
silver, but there's all kinds of silver halide still left in the 
emulsion. Then you put the negative or print into the hypo bath (the 
sodium thiosulphate solution) which removes unexposed and undeveloped 
silver halides remaining. So you have left the pure silver image, 
which in the electron microscope appears as filaments looks like 
seaweed. The negative in principle is about the same as the print. 
But with the Polaroid print, instead of having a comparatively coarse 
grained image like a conventional print, it's ionic silver that's 
deposited. It's attracted across the developer to the receiving 
sheet, and the positive image appears. These of course are too small 


Adams: to be seen, even in the electron microscope. But the ionic silver 

depositions (and there is a kind of a structure), when that gets too 
compact you have something like silver plating, and the surface of 
the print will show what they call "gilding," a metallic sheen. 

So if you take a four by five print conventional print and 
you could consider the surface area of all those crystals, it would 
probably be as big as this room. If you took a Polaroid print and 
could lay out the surface of all the particles, it would probably 
total an acre. And that is why it's extremely susceptible to any 
chemical contamination, because of this large surface, which picks 
up sulphur and other chemicals. Silver loves sulphur! Sulphur does 
not "degenerate" silver, it's just silver going to its most stable 
compound form. That's why an ordinary photomural is usually toned 
to an "egg yolk brown," sepia tone. It is really silver sulphide, 
and that's permanent. The problem is to keep plain silver from turn 
ing to silver sulphide. When a picture fades, like mine (and many 
others') did in the earlier days, it was because the print was in a 
condition to combine with sulphur. 

Teiser: Why in the world did people make sepia prints? 

Adams: I think largely for that reason they were relatively permanent. 

Besides they weren't just that ugly old black-and-white; they had a 
romantic [laughter] a romantic color to them. There are all stages 
of tone. You can get a blue-black and a neutral black and a brown- 
green black and a selenium purple-brown black. My prints are toned 
to get away primarily from this peculiar green-brownish tone (there's 
more green in it than anything else) of the commercial paper. That 
seems to be the natural tone of the silver image. 

Teiser: I think of these big brown Southern Pacific photographs. 

Adams: They had to be that color because there was no way they could process, 
at that time, without toning, with any permanence. Sepia toning was 
done by bleaching and redevelopment. There are "matrices" in the 
gelatin. The gelatin is a very strange, stable substance and keeps 
its form even in submicroscopic pattern. And there are sulphur and 
silver nuclei left therein. They're invisible, so the print after 
bleaching has practically no image at all. And then you redevelop, 
and the image that was silver before has now become silver sulphide. 
And silver sulphide is inert. I suppose some things would affect it 
stains, and all that but it's basically permanent. Very seldom you 
see a brown sepia print that's really turning or fading. 

Teiser: I was wondering, when you were speaking yesterday about the develop 
ment of the Land process: I remember, oh I suppose in the thirties, 
at Fisherman's Wharf, there used to be a man with a camera, and you 
would wait for a couple of minutes, and he would give you kind of a 
funny little picture on metal 


Adams: Tintype. 
Teiser: instantly. 

Adams: Well, the machine was pretty clever. I don't really know the 
process. It's not very permanent. 

Teiser: No. The one I have has faded. 

Adams: It could be but, well, you have several methods reversal processes, 
for instance. I just can't tell you what they used. 

Teiser: I think it had been used for many years before that 

Adams: Oh, many years. It's an old, old process. But it isn't a very 

attractive process. It's very dull, whereas the daguerreotype is 
very beautiful. I think the name for a daguerreotype, "mirror with 
a memory," is one of the great verbal descriptions. 

But you see, one of the problems we have in portraiture is 
satisfying the subject, and the daguerreotype was extremely success 
ful in portraiture because it gave a mirror image. When you looked 
at the daguerreotype, you saw yourself as you look to yourself in 
the mirror. And sometimes we look very different to others than we 
do in the mirror. I can't see myself at all except in the mirror. 
Now, when I see a picture of myself, I sometimes say, "Well, that's 
not what I see every morning when I'm putting Vitalis on what's left 
of my hair." [Laughs] 

I must say, there have been a multitude of processes developed 
in the history of photography. And now it's boiled down to the 
processes as you see them, plus the fact that we're getting into 
some forms of dye or electrostatic photography like Xerox. And 
every laboratory is just working twenty-nine hours a day trying to 
get a nonsilver process, but for some strange reason, way back in the 
1830s, silver halides were found to be the only practical light- 
sensitive material. And when you speak of platinum or palladium 
processes, those salts are not sensitive in themselves, but they 
ride on a ferric process. This process is very slow, but it can 
produce beautiful image qualities. 

The Polaroid is a total miracle and is not just one thing; it 
is a system of very many, very complex processes which are 
constantly advancing, changing and adapting. 

I wish you could see the patent for the new camera in process. 
You can buy one. I don't recall how many pages it is, but there's 
about sixteen pages listing the organic compounds that can be used. 
An interesting thing is that there were two hundred copies ordered 


Adams: by Eastman Kodak Company! [Laughter] Perhaps they're trying to 
find some loophole in these patents, you see, where they can get 
through. Polaroid has a large staff of patent experts. 

Polaroid started out with a silver sulphide image, a brown 
image, and then advanced that to black and white. And they 
achieved two hundred speed. I don't really know the details, and 
I'm not authorized to say if I did know, but I know that the process 
is constantly being refined year by year. Then they achieved four 
thousand speed! Land was out in San Francisco before we moved down 
here, and he had an experimental twenty- thousand-speed film! We 
were taking pictures by starlight, out the window, at a fifth of a 
second. They weren't very good quality prints, but they were 
informative images. Now they have a film that's on the market that 
is used with the oscilloscope ten thousand ASA speed, and that 
enables the recording of very faint, really very faint, images. 

For some reason, the quantum theory limits the "speed" of 
emulsions (ASA rating) to about forty thousand. Without electronic 
image amplification you couldn't go possibly beyond forty thousand. 

But a whole new world opens up with the vidicom tube; modern 
X-ray technique is a fine example of that application. Now they're 
using it in astronomy and seeing things that are totally beyond 
visual and ordinary photographic recording. So maybe one of the 
next developments will be a light amplification system, where your 
image will be produced in numbers, like in the Mars pictures. They 
don't come back in pictures, they come back in a continuous series 
of numbers. And there's an image put together, and it's about one 
or two centimeters square, I think. 

The Mars system is so marvelous! The image is made photo 
graphically; then a scanner moves across. It has 128 levels of 
intensity, which are translated as numbers. They're given a code 
number on the tape. Now, when the scanner reverses direction it's 
sending in the response of a lot of other instruments on board. The 
next cross-scan is of the image. So what they get here is equivalent 
to an endless tape with numbers. Every so often, those are put 
together, and they become a stack of strips. Then they're translated 
into density values, and you have your picture. 

From the moon we had actual pictures, but from Mars we have 
nothing but numbers which make pictures so sharp and remarkable that 
it is almost unbelievable. 


Sensitometry as a Creative Tool 

Adams: Well, anyway, this whole idea is of scientific interest I think I 
should clarify that statement. In no way could I be labeled a 
scientist or, in the classic sense, a technician. I don't know 
enough and don't have the capacity to use the technical facts of 
this world in any other way but applying them to creative work. So 
the emphasis should be, I think, in the fact that in codifying the 
Zone System, I made sensitometry available as a tool for creative 
people who wish to express themselves or depart from reality; but it 
is at a very simple level. In other words, there are several words 
that are different: "approximate" and "precise" and "exact." Most 
people approximate; I think I approach the precise, but I can't 
presume to be exact there's too many decimal points involved! 
[Laughter] And if I use the square root of 2 it is 1.41422, and 
that's far beyond the precision I need. Well, 1.4 would be enough 
for all practical purposes, like developing. Take 8 and multiply it 
by 1.4 it's closer to 11.3 in reality, because when you multiply by 
1.414 you get 11.312. So how precise do you have to be? 

So I mean I mustn't be represented as a scientist or a real 
technician. I'd like to be known as an artist and teacher but, you 
know, never go beyond the logical bounds. But I don't know whether 
I've violated the original theme that you presented. 

Teiser: It's all pertinent. 

Adams: Most of the creative photographers in the world never knew anything 
about the Zone System or ever used anything like it. They're 
entirely empirical in approach. And you learned by trial and error 
that under certain conditions you exposed a certain way. Sometimes 
you modified development, if you knew what you'd done and could 
rectify some of the errors in the darkroom which can be done to an 
amazing degree. So we can't say Edward Weston or Stieglitz or Strand 
were questionable photographers because they didn't understand sensi 
tometry! But from the point of view of efficiency, getting a 
negative that I want, I can run rings around them, and I do not 
"bracket" my exposures. 

This awful word, "bracket;" in color pictures you bracket one 
or two stops, just to be sure. Well, my ego won't let me do that. 
I know what the values are; I know where they fit on the scale. If 
I have to take pictures of an important subject a photograph that I 
know is valuable I'll take several duplicate pictures, but they'll 
all be the same exposure. 

In the time of Group f/64, I would say practically everyone was 
working very empirically. I don't think anybody was really control 
ling anything. Weston went to Mexico, and he learned the lighting 


Adams: situations, and he probably had many failures in the beginning. He 
probably had failures in the field, or at least he had darkroom 
struggles. I did; everybody did. 

It was around '36, '38 that [Beaumont] Newhall sent me a 
clipping about the S.E.I, meter. I was laid up with the flu. He 
sent me an article, a clipping on it, and I immediately ordered one 
by telephone, and I thought, "This is it!" At that time we were 
working on the Zone System, and the S.E.I, meter was the thing that 
really pinpointed it. 

I'd like to say that any intelligent person, in an hour's time 
of serious discussion, can learn the whole basis of the Zone System. 
It's that simple. We had kids students in the California School of 
Fine Arts in San Francisco in six weeks time they could photograph 
anything I could think up. I don't say they'd make a great picture, 
but they could photograph could expose correctly. They went into 
reciprocity failure tests. That's another domain. It's pretty 
complicated. And they tried many different developers for special 
effects. And at the end of six weeks they had a very fine mechanical 
mastery. Now what they did beyond that, that's something else. 

Teiser: When you were developing the Zone System in the mid-thirties, was 

Adams: Well, no, it was when I started teaching in the Art Center School, 
Los Angeles. 

Teiser: Early forties? 

Adams: Well, late thirties and forties. I don't know the dates. 

Fred Archer and I worked out the Zone System, and we got the 
Weston meter representative very excited, and he said, "I'll 
mimeograph you a lot of your charts. I think they're very important." 
We had several charts exposure charts, which are standard; they 
haven't changed any. And then we had density charts curve reading 
charts where you have coordinates on which to plot values and relate 
them to zones. 

One time I remember the students, everybody working along hard 
and everything coming out wrong. We had forgotten to include Zone V 
on the chart, which meant a factor of 2 was omitted! Well, [laughter] 
those things can happen. 

I found out that serious people want to know how to control, and 
many people tie themselves in a knot wanting to know how to begin. 
The ones that always give me a real pain in the neck are the ones 
who say, "I can judge the light." I said, "Well, anywhere?" "Oh yes, 
anywhere. I never need the meter. I don't need a meter." 


Adams: Well, it's physiologically and psychologically impossible. It's 

just like saying I can judge your weight by looking at you. I can 
make an empirical guess by looking at a lot of other people like you. 
But it's a pompous thing to say. If I didn't have a meter, I would 
have to bracket exposures. I would have to make a guess and then go 
above and below it just to be sure. I don't really know light values. 
I know in Yosemite, from ten in the morning until four in the 
afternoon, the shadows in the trees on a clear day are so much, and 
I know where granite is on the scale, and so on. But in New England 
I fell flat on my face missed all the light there. At Santa Fe I 
again fell flat on my face misjudged the light. Had to make tests 
and find out what it was in general. Hawaii was the same, although 
by that time I knew how to use meters. When I went to Hawaii I 
wouldn't trust them. I mean, I'd say, "Well, this can't be." And 
then I'd give in and say, "Oh, I must trust the meter. It was a 
good meter, and I was just applying experience as well, which was 
all right. 

Teiser: The quality of light is so curious, isn't it? We were just discussing 
it as we drove along. 

Adams: Well, the quality of light in the early days when 0' Sullivan and 

others worked in the Southwest (in fact, anybody at that time) the 
films accepted only blue light. You don't get the optimum amount of 
blue until about nine-thirty or ten o'clock in the morning, and it 
begins to go at four o'clock and the light becomes redder and redder. 
With blue-sensitive plates this posed a real problem. 

But, I don't think that these early people could work except 
between ten o'clock and two or three o'clock with any assurance. 
Then when the orthochromatic film came in, which accepted green, 
you had more leeway working with longer wavelengths. With ortho- 
chromatic film, you could still get into trouble with late or early 

The light now (6:15 p.m. Pacific daylight savings time) 
it's deficient in blue. It's all right; I can still get by with 
panchromatic (red-sensitive film) without much difficulty. But you 
wait until seven o'clock. In the old days, even with orthochromatic 
film you'd have to multiply the exposure four or five times. But you 
never really knew how red it was. We now have color temperature (K) 
meters to inform us of this quality of light. The eye-mind complex, 
being an absolute miracle of construction, adapts to differences of 
color temperature. You're not aware of the light now being very 
much of red quality. 

You take a white piece of paper and put it under a tungsten 
light it appears white; you take it outside in the sun or shade and 
it also appears white. The difference would be apparent when you 
could have both together. The best example I ever had of that was 


Adams: Mills College Art Gallery. I went over there with Albert Bender to 
see some big show, and this whole gallery was illuminated with 
tungsten light. We were in there, and everything was perfectly 
normal white labels, white shirts. But I looked out the door, 
looking out into the woods, and they were absolutely turquoise. We 
call it cyan now. I mean, here was a bluish-green gorgeous thing, 
and I thought, "What's happening?" And I went out, and as soon as 
I'm out, it's perfectly normal they're green. And I looked back 
into the room, and it's gold. The eye has adaptability which the 
film does not. In this case there was opportunity for direct 

Now, I'd be conscious of a direct physical reflection of blue 
light from the sky, or red light, or orange in your dress, or 
similar things. I can see a little orange light on your face from 
your dress. But a color film would just accentuate that the shadow 
might be distractingly orange. 

So all this matter of visualization relates to seeing the image 
you want, but you have to also take into consideration all the 
idiosyncracies of the light itself, and the meter and film sensitivity. 
That's why photometers are important. You take any Weston cell or a 
CdS [cadmium sulphide] cell, and over an hour or so from now its 
response to changing daylight differs. Whereas a comparison photometer 
is something else, because if the spot looks bluish, you just put in 
a light filter that can control its response (as well as that of the 
film). In fact, my S.E.I, photometer is a practical color temperature 
meter if I have somebody to hold a compensating filter in front of it 
while I am using it. (Takes two hands to operate it!) 

Suppose I wanted to copy a painting in a gallery, and I know 
the light is tricky, and I know what's going to happen, and I have 
to do it in color photography. If I have a fifty-dollar color meter, 
which will give me readings in mirads, etc., I can figure out what 
filters to use, etc. But I can take this S.E.I, meter and look at 
the gray card, and if the spot looks yellow I may use a variety of 
number eighty series filters or other filters held in front of the 
meter. And I may find a filter which makes the spot neutral and 
that's the filter that may correct the film for color. Because I 
match the color with the fixed brightness which is already filtered, 
for both tungsten or daylight, by selecting one of two built-in 
filters in the meter. If I'm using tungsten balanced film, I set in 
the tungsten filter. 

So there's a strange dichotomy the principles are rather 
complex, but the devices we have to control them are fairly simple, 
and the photographers who use them are, 90 percent of the time, 
extremely dumb, because they don't take advantage of the devices 
we've got. [Laughter] And then when they make a mistake of exposure 


Adams: or development, they immediately justify it by making some further 

mistake in the printing, or maybe trying to pull something out of the 
hat by processing experimentally. And sometimes, of course, miracles 
happen. You know, you could really get a bad negative and neverthe 
less get a print that might have exciting qualities. 

But I'm just not built to accept what is called the accidental. 

Contemporary Images 

Teiser: I was looking at photographs in the latest U.S. Camera magazine this 
morning by "coming" young photographers. And one of them was a 
picture of a whole bunch of people standing lined up in a field and 
all their heads were blurred their bodies weren't, their heads were. 
I didn't take time to read what was so good about it. 

Adams: Well, the tragedy there is sociological. I mean, our whole society 

or government, or whatever we have, hasn't given anybody any challenge 
to think. Everything is mechanistic, technical. Thinking is all done 
in Route 128 outside Cambridge, or up here in Sunnyvale, at those big 
research centers. Everything is carefully thought out, but the 
social situation is very unclear. And most people have nothing to 
say. So they're inventing symbols. And they'll make a photograph, 
and then say, "Well, this means something to me." Now, perhaps we 
can say of this lineup (I haven't seen the picture), "This would be 
an unusual approach to the certainty of the body and the uncertainty 
of the mind." You'd be surprised what is read into these things, 
into picture after picture! Or a picture done in Rochester of George 
Eastman's house porch. It's just a square picture of a dark column 
frantically bad. 

Jerry Uelsmann has really made a great advance because he's 
combined negatives and created true fantasies. Personally, I find 
they wear thin after awhile, because the whole thing is a bit limited. 
And then you begin to think of what Dorothea Lange did in interpreting 
a human situation. And of course what all the great painters of the 
Renaissance did in the religious area you have to remember that 
there were no other themes in Western art at that time but the 
Christian religion, and the portraits of a few potentates and princes. 
The art that was done outside that field is miniscule. If you're an 
art historian, you may correct me there may be some done, but as you 
move on later, then you get into the genre of the Dutch and landscapes 
and the Barbizon school. But art always fails if there isn't a theme. 

That's the trouble now with abstract expressionism. It did its 
job, and it was wonderful when it did it. It was part of a protest, 
and I think art now is at the very lowest level it's been. And that's 


Adams: why they're painting paintings as big as this room. They're trying 
to regain some grandeur by just going to big paintings. But how 
many great painters can you think of today? Well, I can think of 
[Georgia] O'Keeffe, who's still a great living painter. John Marin, 
[Edward] Hopper they are dead. (I'm trying to think of modern 
painters.) [Andrew] Wyeth I think is a glorified Norman Rockwell; 
I simply can't I think he's one of the greatest fakes going. Some 
of his paintings are absolute copies of snapshots I The reason I feel 
it is this: In his large book there is a graveyard scene in the back 
of a church; a good photographer with any sensibility would see the 
formal relationships of these gravestones with the church. I mean, 
he'd make some effort to compose. This picture shows no effort to 
compose. This is just a "click," and there it is, and he painted it. 
And that bothers me. 

But think of [Charles E.] Burchfield's picture, the "Hot 
September Wind" or even some of Wyet-h's, like that "Wind in the 
Curtain;" there is magic in them. 

But who's really doing anything among photographers? Well, 
Bruce Davidson did a book on New York [East 100th Street] which is 
very important. But so many of them withdraw from any human project 
and just sit back and ruminate smoke pot, and get an idea that the 
chair is important, "I'll take a picture of it. Now, you undress, 
you be a nude and you sit in the chair, and I'll do a double 
exposure, and maybe I'll put something else in the picture. Now I've 
done something!" [Laughter] And this means just something, little 
thought of human communication. But you'll see many of these double 
and triple exposures most of which are terrible. Some of them can 
be beautiful, but most of them are so trite! 

There's a whole mode now of a living room scene with the 
members of the family sitting around nude. They're mostly extremely 
unattractive people, and the photograph has absolutely no distinction. 
[Laughter] It's completely commonplace. It used to be a little 
daring. Now you say, "Oh, I've seen that before!" 

And the human body, in 90 percent of the instances, is far more 
aesthetic with clothes than without. [Laughter] 

The Nude 

Adams: I haven't done nudes for the simple reason that the human body can 
be extremely beautiful, but I've seen very few photographic nudes 
that can do what painting does. I've always had that in the back of 
my mind "Why should I photograph a nude?" Now, Stieglitz and 
Weston of course did some beautiful ones. [Interruption] 

[End Tape 6, Side 2] 


[Begin Tape 7, Side 1] 

Adams: Now, the question of the nude has always been very important in 

photography. And some of the early nudes I think were very ghastly 
because they were usually done in settings of drapes and formal 
Victorian rooms. We're talking now about serious nude photography. 

I can't tell you about English photography. I think Julia 
Margaret Cameron did some I just don't know. There were some 
painters: [Thomas] Eakins, I think, did some nudes, but I've always 
had the feeling they were studies for paintings. 

Then there was Ann Brigman who did nudes creatively related to 
other forms tree forms, for example in the early 1900s. 

Then there was Stieglitz who did a magnificent series of nudes 
of O'Keeffe and others. Most are platinum prints. But there again, 
you have this high quality of taste. These were beautiful things. 
The platinum print color and the approach always gave you the 
feeling of living flesh; a very important thing in photography. The 
painterly nude or drawing is always just what it is. And you always 
from your Goya to your Rubens , and on to Picasso have a nude quality 
which is something apart from the ordinary. 

In photography, there's very, very few that have ever done a 
nude that have had that equivalent of the painterly quality. I 
think Steichen did a couple (I don't know for sure). And Weston's 
nudes of Tina Modotti, who had an absolutely beautiful body as 
people say, one of the most beautiful bodies extant were really 

And then he attempted nudes of various subjects; they're 
rather scrawny. They became very strangely stylized. As I said the 
other day, they were morguesque. They look like corpses on a slab; 
they have no life in them. 

Then Charis Weston had a very fine body very smooth and tall. 
Weston did some beautiful things of her in sand dunes and in various 
poses. I think some of those were quite remarkable, but all in all, 
I can't remember too many. I remember one nude that's simply 
marvelous. It's by Ruth Bernhard. And it's a seated figure, and 
all you see is the leg and the knee. And it's an absolutely monu 
mental photograph one of the great photographs. 

Teiser: I was about to ask you about her, because she's one who's doing 
mostly nudes now, isn't she? 

Adams: I guess so she's doing a lot of them. She is a marvelous woman. 
But I haven't kept up with her work. But this one nude picture I 
just think is one of the most beautiful things in photography. And 
I wish there were more like it I 


Adams: I've never had any interest in nudes because I never liked what I 
saw. I mean, I felt that there are few bodies that really lend 
themselves to the photographic aesthetic something more than 
members of a nudist camp. Mortensen got young girls of seventeen, 
eighteen; but he ruined their quality by, as we say, "oiling" them 

Contrivance, Arrangement, and Simulation 

Teiser: You were mentioning Wynn Bullock. And he's used nude figures but 
not for themselves, as I remember. 

Adams: Well, there's some kind of a complex situation with Wynn. Mind you, 
Wynn is one of the great people, one of the finest men I know. He's 
just a marvelous human being. Lots of his pictures have bothered me 
because they are mannered. And I'd like to clarify that. Perhaps 
the word is "contrived." Now "contrived" has got a bigger meaning, 
in the sense that if I'm going to do an advertisement, I have to 
contrive the situation. 

Say I have a model and a dress. I'm thinking of Anton Bruehl's 
studio I visited years ago in New York. He was doing a picture for, 
I think it was, Lipton's Tea. And the model was a quite beautiful 
woman in a taffeta dress in a very elaborate setup with a silver tea 
service. And she was just sipping this tea. And of course the 
lighting and everything was just beyond belief. It was entirely 
contrived, and yet absolutely sincere. 

Now, contrivance in another meaning is when you "monkey" with 
things. Such contrivance would be when a nature photographer takes 
along a bunch of azalea branches and puts it in a place for 
decorative effect where they couldn't exist. 

Teiser: Suppose he put it in a place where they could exist? 

Adams: Well, then you say all right. Yes, yes it's a moral, ethical 

problem, and that's very flexible. You brought up a good point. If 
the final result looked completely plausible and was real all right. 
But it's a very delicate thing; very hard to put your finger on. 

The arrangement is one thing, but the contrivance I know, I'll 
just say one of Bullock's has an old building and back of a window 
screen is a nude. Well, for me, nothing happens. I mean, he's 
trying to tell you something in a literary sense, or he's probably 
having echoes of an "art" experience (art in quotes). It's very hard 
to discuss I can't quite put my finger on it. He has a picture of 
a forest in Florida, and there's a little baby lying down in the ivy. 


Adams: Why? You see, I ask myself why. It's a beautiful photograph. 

There's one that he has of a little child sitting by a stream in an 
enormous forest, and that's a very extraordinary thing. In addition, 
it is something that could happen. He may have contrived it or 
arranged it by getting her there, but it is something that could 
occur. But the little baby lying down in the ivy is a questionable 
thing for me. And the woman behind the screen is also questionable. 
The woman lying on the bed in the room is not. That's something 
that's completely plausible. 

You have no idea how many thousands of photographs are made of 
nudes lying on beds with babies, without babies. [Laughter] 

Imogen [Cunningham] has one of the great images just the unmade 
bed. There's nothing on it or in it, but it's a very exciting photo 

So there's a very delicate definition here between the real and 
oh, the word that I'd like to use there is the "simulated." Now, to 
simulate something is, I think, perfectly all right, because you 
begin with reality and you're simulating it. You're trying to get a 
re-creation, a simulation of this thing. And therefore it has neither 
good nor bad connected with it. Arrangement is arbitrary. 
Contrivance has either good or evil connected with it contrivance 
is probably a 75c word for "posing." When I show my picture of 
Clarence Kennedy, who is in profile, it looks like the most obvious 
pose in the world. But I say: I did not pose him. This is the 
stance he takes when he's listening to somebody. In this case, he 
was listening to his wife telling him what to get when he took me 
downtown, because she wanted some groceries. He was just listening, 
but he always put his long finger behind his ear. 

Now, superficially, it looks as if I've said, "Come on, Clarence, 
let's do a little pose you know, something funny," but it wasn't that 
way. That's the way he was when I made the picture. 

But the separation between the real and the contrived, you see, 
is very delicate. 

Once Edward and Charis [Weston] and I were on a trip. Edward 
was madly photographing we were near Death Valley. And Charis saw 
an old boot. So she closes her eyes and she kicks it. Then she 
goes over and looks at the boot again. Then she gives it another 
kick. My god, it then looked pretty good. She said, "Edward, there's 
something here." He looked at it, and he made a beautiful photograph. 
Now, it was no more accidental for the boot to be there than where it 
was originally, except that it had been displaced and then had been 
selected as reality and called attention to as a "found object." 
And I don't think Edward ever knew that Charis kicked that boot. But 


Adams: it just landed right in some sagebrush and some rocks and looked 

perfectly normal. Before, it was sort of cluttered; it was difficult 
to make a composition of it. 

Now, is that right or wrong? If he_ had kicked the boot, then 
you'd have a half-way point. If he'd taken the boot up and put it 
very carefully down, and sand around it, and carefully arranged it, 
then you would have contrivance. So you see, you have an ethical 
point to ponder on. 

On the other hand, suppose I have a perfectly beautiful 
composition of rocks and there's a beer can in it. I think I'm 
privileged to remove the beer can. But some purists say, no, I 
shouldn't even do that. In other words, I'm manipulating; it's no 
longer a true found object. 

Teiser: Those are people who were born before Kleenex. 

Adams: Yes. Perhaps you have been down in the desert, like Barstow, Red 
Lake, some place, you know where the garbage dump is just an open 
dump, and the desert wind had taken everything on the ground and 
blown it over miles of desert and every bush had Kleenex and papers . 
and things hanging on it! This in itself is an extraordinary 
phenomenon, and if somebody from another planet had landed there, he 
would have found it of the most extraordinary significance. What is 
this substance that's on the bushes? I regret that I didn't record 
that as part of the desert phenomena. 

I do have a [photograph of a] garbage dump at Manzanar, though, 
that I never thought of using, but I could now. 

Meaning, Shape, and Form 

Adams: My picture of the statue at the Long Beach cemetery, with the oil 
derricks in the distance, was done as a quasi-surrealistic thing. 
I just saw the improbability of this weeping angel and the oil 
derricks. It had no definite meaning; this is just a juxtaposition 
of opposites. Now, with the present pollution situation, it takes 
on another meaning! I People read into that all kinds of things. I'm 
even thinking of putting it in my Portfolio Seven just for that 
example. It was done for one reason but is "read" today for another. 
I'm proud of the photograph. But the meaning of it to me when I did 
it was just the sudden shock of the juxtaposition of the statue 
against the oil derricks, without any thought at all of pollution or 
anything else. And now when you see it, you may entertain a totally 
different meaning. Now if you saw the Angel of Death in front of oil 


Adams: wells, you'd immediately think of environmental disasters, and so on. 
And I'd like to make that point clear; it shows how expressions and 
meanings can be manipulated over time. 

I'm a heathen, and I look at many of the old master paintings 
and I get dismally tired of the Annunciations and the Resurrections 
and such things. But then you look at them abstractly what do they 
do? Of course, they're all doing about the same thing, but a few of 
them always stood apart. A few of them were, I think, very inconse 
quential, but have become famous because of their period and 
associations. But to me, with my admittedly meager experience, the 
most magnificent religious expression of the theme is at the little 
santuario of Chimayo, New Mexico. The primitive Penitente paintings 
there are so absolutely beautiful that I'd much rather look at them 
than any Raphael or any conventional painting. Now, there are 
probably all kinds of things like that all over Europe, by the 
million, but these really hit me. 

The Birth of Venus struck me as being absolutely tremendous, 
and the El Greco paintings. I get very mad when people tell me 
El Greco painted that way because he had an astigmatism. I think he 
was a stylist; I think he just did this thing of certain elongations 
for emotional reasons. 

We're getting very far from photography, and I'm getting into a 
domain that I'm really no authority in. 

Teiser: Well, as it relates to your photography, which of course it does 

Adams : Getting back to the idea of the difference between shape and form, 
the external world is nothing but a chaotic infinity of shapes, and 
the photographer's problem is to isolate the shapes, both for 
meaning and for their inherent potentials to produce form within the 
format of the image. And I've had terrific semantic arguments; 
people talk about natural forms, and I'd say, "Form is a product of 
man's mind and concepts, and shape is a phenomenon of nature." And 
the function of the artist is to develop configurations out of chaos, 
and especially so the photographer. You see, a painter can have 
myriad experiences and draw all these things beautifully together, 
without regard for their real time or place, but the photographer's 
got that camera and lens and that one film, and the maximum has to 
happen when that shutter clicks. 


Time and Reevaluation 

Adams: I think maybe what happened after f/64 is interesting and deserves 
a little more study. We all kept on. Imogen [Cunningham], as you 
know, is something in her own. She's always been, I guess, one of 
the most diverse people. The others somewhat faded from the scene. 
Willard [Van Dyke] went into movies. Of course, Edward Weston kept 
on, there's no question of that, and Brett is doing extremely well. 
Henry Swift and John Paul Edwards faded out of the picture. 

Perhaps, for maybe a decade, the f/64 wasn't too important. 
It had done its job; it settled, and now it's coming back. It's 
like what happens with any great artist. You take Edward Weston. 
He died and there's a slump; now he's coming back ferociously on 
the preciousness of his remaining work. And I can guarantee that 
there will probably be quite a long period wherein he becomes a 
legendary figure, and then people will begin to discover him as 
dementi and Mendelssohn did Bach, and there will be a powerful 
revival. I think that will probably happen with every fine 
photographer and artist. After their death you'll have a kind of 
surge of evaluation get what you can and get what's left. And 
then there'll be quite a long period, maybe a whole generation, 
where his work may not have much meaning. And then stylistically, 
it will reassert itself: just look at the history of Bach. 

You remember that Beethoven had a piano that didn't permit bass 
octaves. I know; I played on one of the pianos an 1812 instrument, 
an instrument that he used, or a close serial number to it. It was 
owned by the people that were formerly very important in Williams- 
burg, and she was a fine pianist and musicologist. And this piano 
was in mint condition; you'd play on it and you'd hear it was 
beautiful. But, compared to what I've got over there a 1924 Mason 
and Hamlin grand piano there was little comparison. This was a 
time when I could still play, so I remember. There wasn't space for 
many of the octaves placed in later editions of his piano music. 

So there was a development with the big piano and its modern 
keyboard. And then Beethoven was reedited to include the octaves. 


Teiser: It's almost as if a new dimension was found in photography which 
could put a negative onto a different plane than it is now. 

Adams: Well, don't think that you're just making conjectural remarks; the 
thing is possibly quite true. Now we have holography. And this is 
a very complicated thing, and I don't think I can describe it. 
Holography gives three-dimensional effects. Using it, you might 
achieve another interpretation entirely from any negative that I 
have now. 


Teiser: That's a fascinating possibility. 

Adams: That is a reality. It is expensive and complex. The first color 
images were made many, many years before we ever had a color print 
or transparency, but they were seen by iridescence. And the silver 
grain responded at different wavelengths and therefore would respond 
to a different columnated light coming upon it, and you would get a 
sense of color. So you see, miracles have always been with us. 

Now, holography is something totally different. Some day that 
may be very important; it creates the illusion of the three- 
dimensional image. But still it's kind of crude and extremely 
complicated and extremely cumbersome, using laser beams. But there 
is always this possibility of making an integrated analysis of the 
rotation of the silver grains. It would be a random thing, and 
concern billions of grains practically in every place, but you might 
get a feeling of a dimensional quality. You might even get a feeling 
of color. But you wouldn't do it with one grain; you'd do it with a 
million, a billion, a trillion grains, you see. That's where the 
computer would come in. 

Teiser: Sounds like a time machine. 

Adams: Yes. In fact, I just read an article in Science today of the 

reversible time. A theory has been proven in the domain of sub 
atomic particles; they move forward and backward in time. This is 
mathematical and extremely complex. Nothing to do with ordinary 

The Photo League and Politics 

Adams: I think we discussed the Photo League, didn't we? 
Teiser: Not at any length.* 

Adams: Well, that's important. I think we could end with that tonight. 

It was primarily a film [motion picture] group before the war, and 

it was quite important. It was always avant-garde, socially and 

Shortly after the war, it became very active with still 
photography. It was dedicated to the contemporary scene. There 
were some very fine photographers in it Barbara Morgan, Beaumont 

*See p. 49 and other references as indexed. 


Adams: and Nancy Newhall, myself, Strand. Strand was one of the leaders. 
There were some shows in the East, and I had one show at the San 
Francisco Fair [Golden Gate International Exposition] in 1940. 

At any event , in the late 1940s I received a call from Barbara 
Morgan who said, "I think you ought to know what's happened. The 
Commies have taken over the Photo League's board of directors." She 
said, "I don't like it, because I joined it as a photographer, not 
as a politician." You know, so many organizations had gone that way. 
You'd join a photographic society and find out it's something in 
support of the Communist party. In this case, then, they got a 
photographer in as prime director of education who was a well-known 
member of the party. And Barbara said, "I'm getting out, and I don't 
want anything to do with this; I'm liberal, but I don't want to be 
identified with the Communist party." And I said, "Neither do I." 

So I called up my lawyer and asked, "What do we do? I have had 
no direct experience, but I'm warned that there's a political take 
over in action." He said, "Well, write them a letter requesting 
information on the trend. Are they to continue as a photographic 
institution or grow into a political institution?" And, with the 
temper of the times, he advised me to send a copy to the FBI, which 
I did. 

I got no response at all, in fact, more adverse reports, so I 
resigned. I sent a letter saying, "Not having had a satisfactory 
answer to my question, I feel that I really shouldn't continue as a 
member. So I respectfully submit my resignation." I sent a copy 
also to the FBI. And it was the most fortunate thing I ever did, 
because I was cleared later from being associated with a definitely 
Red-oriented group. 

Now, I'd like to make it clear: if it were a Republican- 
oriented or a Democratic-oriented or Red-oriented organization, it 
would have the same effect. I mean, I think the Communist party has 
an equal right to exist along with the Nixon party. But I don't want 
to be associated with those political aspects. And when I came in 
for a final clearance, which was through the navy and Polaroid to do 
some secret stuff, the FBI told me that the copies of these letters 
they held are what made clearance possible. They said, "You clearly 
stated your point of view." 

Several very fine photographers a couple of them got jobs with 
the Department of Education and went over to Europe to photograph 
and were turned back at the docks because they were members of the 
Photo League. Of course, this was part of the McCarthy catastrophe, 
and we had to fight that. They were the most innocent people in the 
world; they didn't know what was going on politically. They just 
wanted to practice and help the arts. 


Teiser: This was a New York based organization, was it? 

Adams: Yes. 

Teiser: Who started it? 

Adams: Walter Rosenblum, Paul Strand--! don't know whether Walker Evans 
was in it or not; I doubt it. It was a considerable group of New 
York photographers, which was a special breed. They're mostly in 
journalism. I don't want to be quoted in the sense of accusing 
people by association. But, it was quite a sizable group. Berenice 
Abbott I think was in it. I got in it, and Willard Van Dyke people 
who were interested in joining organizations that would do good, like 
the Group f/64. 

Harroun: It didn't start out political? 

Adams: Oh, no, it started out as a well, it was more or less dedicated to 
the American scene, because you don't have much else in New York. 
The American situation, the social scene, I should say. And you 
realize people who are living in New York and places don't know much 
else. If they see a tree, it's a Central Park phenomenon. I mean, 
they live in the ghetto, they live in the center of the city; their 
whole life is people. Helen Leavitt was another one did marvelous 
photographs of people, but the orientation is totally different 
from out here. 

It was an organization that commanded considerable respect and 
was the only one of its kind in the country. But of course we 
cannot forget that hideous McCarthy period, when everybody was 
accused of everything. George Marshall was in the Civil Liberties 
Congress, which was very definitely a Commie organization, and he was 
too naive to realize that. He was a man of very considerable means, 
and they got him in. This group was brought up before the Senate, 
and it was pretty grim, because most of the leading communists in the 
country were in it, and George was the treasurer. (George was the 
brother of Robert Marshall who founded the Wilderness Society very 
fine and wealthy people.) And the Senators demanded that he turn 
over the books. And he said, "I cannot do this without the approval 
of my board of directors as a matter of principle." 

"You refuse to do that?" 

Well, he was convicted of contempt of the Senate and was 
sentenced to prison. Went to the Philadelphia Farm I think it was 
for six months. He really went through hell. An extraordinarily 
fine man. He was a man of great principle. The Senate had really 


Adams: no jurisdiction. This is a matter which I do not believe has been 
cleared yet in law. But they had no right to demand that he_ submit 
the books. He said, "If my board orders me to do so. You order the 
board, and they'll order me; otherwise I stand in contempt, gentle 
men." It was really quite a moving situation, and it was absolutely 
undemocratic and absolutely wrong. 

And the photographers we've had a lot of troubles! Strand 
had to move to France or he would have been in jail, because he was 
definitely a communist. Having money, you know, he could do what he 
wanted. He was much luckier than others. 

You're always confronted with sacrificing yourself on the alter 
of political belief or being rational and doing what you have to do 
as an artist, irrespective of Nixon, or McCarthy, or Roosevelt or 


I'm very unhappy about the contemporary situation, because I 
think if something goes haywire, which it very well could, we'll 
come under a very strict surveillance. 

Jack Anderson's comment on the FBI when this new man, [Patrick] 
Gray (who apparently is a real dumb jerk), took over: "We have no 
personal files." And Anderson had photostatic copies of the 
personal files. Now, take the young photographer what is he going 
to do in the world? Is he going to go out and photograph rocks and 
trees, or is he going to really pitch in and do something for 
society? I would admire the one who would pitch in and do something 
in the sociological sense, providing he makes moving photographs. 

I tell you, a typical thing was that [Ralph] Crane, I think he 
was, of Life a whole lot of pictures were made of troups departing 
for the war. This was back in the early days. And oh, they had 
fanfares and they had soldiers and all this stuff. And Crane made 
a picture of a wife and daughter in the back of the car they had 
just taken their husband and father to the embarcation center. 

That was one of the most incredible photographs I've ever seen 
I mean, just the expressions on these people. And it was a beautiful 
photograph. It was beautiful tonally and compositionally. And I've 
been trying to find that, and no one knows anything about it; Life 
can't find it, and so on. 

But there was the whole creative tragedy of the war, just in 
this particular photograph of these two women, you see. And all the 
other patriotic bombast was if you read into it with a literary 
sense, you thought, "Well yes, they're going over to be shot up; too 
bad." That was bad. But the whole thing was summed up in this 
extremely perceptive photograph. And in that way the perceptive and 


Adams: beautifully controlled and aesthetically managed image has the 

greatest power. And that's where Dorothea Lange stands head and 
shoulders above all the rest of her colleagues, because she injected 
that quality of art and sensitivity. 

Working with Dorothea Lange 

Teiser : I remember her photograph of shipyard people had that same something. 

Adams: It's not known who did many of those photographs she and I worked on 
that together. The one of the people coming down, the whole crowd 
that was mine ["Shipyard Construction Workers, Richmond, California," 

Teiser: Oh, it was.' 

Adams: And the picture of the Negress sitting in front of the trailer camp 
housing in the mud that was mine. And the trailer camp children 
also were mine. 

And then, helped by her son, she got some pictures in a bar, 
which I wish I'd done. But that doesn't mean much difference. We' 
did it as a joint thing, like we did the story on the Mormons. What 
was Dorothea's idea, what was my idea, whether she or I did the 
photograph what difference does it make? Those really were joint 
projects, and I imagine it was a fifty-fifty result.* It was a 
privilege to work with her, but it was difficult. Even at that time 
she wasn't well, and she'd overdo and she'd have medical problems. 

I don't regret my life at all. It's been spectacular in many 
ways. And you know, working with people is rewarding. Some day I'll 
give you a story of my invasion of the South with telephone advertising 
people. That would be another story. 

Teiser: Well, I'll write it down to bring up later. 
Adams: Some of it, if I told the truth, you couldn't even print. 
[Interruption visitor enters] 

Adams: Ah, this is Dick Julian, one of my prize students, a very fine 

photographer, a very fine electronics engineer. He's made me two 

*See also other references to Dorothea Lange as indexed. 


Adams: gadgets, timers, which put me in this enviable world of 

technological superiority! And he's a fine photographer, which is 
the most important thing. I'd like to show you his portfolio. 

[End Tape 7, Side 1] 

Early Visits to New Mexico 

[Interview VI 26 May 1972] 
[Begin Tape 7, Side 2] 

[Virginia Adams participated in this interview] 

Teiser: I can start today by reading you some dates that I have here that 

maybe will recall to you your early trips to New Mexico. These are 
mostly from Mrs. Newhall's book. 

Adams : Yes . 

Teiser: Some time in 1927 

Adams: That's the date I went. 

Teiser: you went first to Santa Fe with Albert Bender. 

Then in 1928 you went twice, and then in 1929 in the spring 
you and Mrs. Adams went, and then I don't know 

Adams: Well, she [Mrs. Newhall] didn't get all those details in those days, 
because it was pretty complex. But I can start it off by saying 
that Bertha Damon, who was then Bertha Pope, was quite a literary 
figure. You remember, she's written really delightfully. I think 
her first book was A Sense of Humus, which was on gardening. It was 
just marvelous. And the other one was Grandma Called It Carnal. 
That was marvelous too. She's a great stylist. And she was a 
great friend of Witter Bynner's. 

So Albert Bender said, "Let's us go down in the old bus and see 
Bynner and the other people down there." Bertha and Albert and I 
drove down in his Buick, which I think was a 1926 coach terribly 
good automobile, probably still running. And in those days the 
roads were simply ghastly. The highway over to Tehachapi, that 
wasn't so bad, but when you got over to Mojave from Mojave on east 
it was all "washboard" just dreadful road. Dust. You know what a 
washboard road is? 

V. Adams: That was the time we took Ella Young? 


Adams: No, I'm speaking of going there first with Bertha. April 1927 
that was the first trip. 

V. Adams: I don't remember. 

Adams: [To Mrs. Adams] She got that out of Nancy's book. 

So we arrived in Santa Fe and went to the De Vargas Hotel. 
This is very poignant I met Bynner for the first time in the men's 

V. Adams: You mean that's where you were to meet? [Laughter] 

Adams: We arrived in a state. It was snowing and a dust storm, so the 

snow was literally gray. I've never seen anything like it since. 

V. Adams: What time of year? 

Adams: April. So then Witter said, "Well, you're all coming to dinner," 
and he gave us the address but he didn't give us directions. 

Bertha was sure it was the north side of the Santa Fe River. 
I didn't know. So we went up there and got lost and kept calling 
on people, and these people only spoke Spanish, you know it was 
a terrible time. Finally we got back to the hotel, and Bynner 
said on the phone, "I didn't tell you. We're first meeting at a 
party on Canyon Road. So you go there." 

So we went there and there was a real wild drinking party, 
and a lot of young people had passed out 

V. Adams: That was quite a beginning. [Laughter] 

Adams: In those days Santa Fe was really something very exotic. 

And then we got to Bynner's place about nine o'clock, and 
there was more partying, and then about ten o'clock he had this 
dinner. Well, poor Albert wasn't used to that kind of stuff at 
all. Bertha was, but she was furious. The only reason I took it, 
I guess, was that I was young. 

So we had several riotous days, and we met people Mary 
Austin, Haniel Long, Arthur Davidson Ficke, Shuster 

V. Adams: Will. 

Adams: Will Shuster, and the Cassidys, Gerald and Ina Sizer Cassidy, and 
quite a few others that were writers and artists and friends of 
Bynner and Bertha. 

And we toured around a bit. We went to Taos , but we didn't 
meet Mabel [Dodge Luhan] . 


Teiser : 
Adams : 

V. Adams; 
Adams : 

V . Ad ams ; 
Adams : 
V . Adams : 
Adams : 
V. Adams; 

Adams : 

Adams : 
Adams : 

You did not? 

No, not that time, 
came home. 

She was in Europe or something. And then we 

Didn't you have a trip across the desert, sort of just across the 
country somewhere, in Albert's car? 

Oh yes, that's interesting. We went to Grand Canyon on the way. 
And we left Flagstaff, and the road was terrible. So we stopped 
some shepherd by the road, and I said, "Can I cut across here?" 
He says, "Oh, go right across." How we ever did it I don't know, 
but we got that car across about eight, ten miles of Arizona 
desert without any mishaps. It was a foolhardy thing to do just 
absolutely ridiculous. But I didn't see that it was much worse 
than the road. We cleared everything. Had a little trouble 
getting on the road on the South Rim, though. We had to navigate 
for a mile or two to find a place where we could get down the bank, 
see. And I had to get out and move some logs, but we made it. 
[Laughter] Then we went to Grand Canyon. 

Who else was there with you? 

Friend of Bertha's. 

I can't even think who it is. 

I can't even remember the name. I think Albert was very jealous 

He thought that he should have the center of attention, which he 
should have. 

It was very funny one morning I left very early to get a picture, 
and I looked down from (I forget which point it was near the big 
hotel, I guess), and I saw this little figure walking around in 
circles out on this sort of an esplanade, quite a way down. It 
was Albert. He was pacing in a circle. He was depressed because 
he thought that this guy wasn't worthy of Bertha. I don't know 
how confidential to be about this, but it was very funny. 

Anyway, we got home safely, 
that happened. 

How long a trip was it? 
Two weeks . 

Did you do all the driving? 
Yes. Albert didn't drive. 

I can't think of anything else 


V. Adams: The bounding Buick. It bounded that time, for sure. 

Adams: Bertha didn't like driving. I could take it hour after hour, but 
those washboard roads were unbelievable. 

Teiser: Do you remember what your first impression of Mary Austin was? 

Adams: I met her at a party. She was rather grim, very nice, to me at 
least didn't like Bertha. 

V. Adams: She didn't really like most women, especially here was Bertha, 
who had done some writing. She wanted to be at the center. 

Adams: At any event, she saw some of my pictures, which I'd taken down 

Then the next trip is when we- met the Applegates, Frank Apple- 
gate and his wife [Alta], and Mary Austin again. 

V. Adams: Was that the time we went together, or were you there another time 
after that? You went to New York on the train and stopped off. 

Adams: That's right. Several trips there, we went by train. 

V. Adams: Yes, because once was just before Christmas, and you took some 
pictures of the snow on the adobe house. 

Adams: Bynner's home. 

Teiser: That must have been 1928. According to Mrs. Newhall's book, you 
were there in April and then in November 1928. 

V. Adams: Well, that could be. Because, you know, we got married in January 
1928, but I had invited people to Yosemite. I had a household 
there to work on. And you were going east. And we didn't go 
until the spring of '29, when we went with 

Adams: Yes, Ella Young. 

Well, there were several trips, and at that time we arranged 
to do the Taos book, and a lot of pictures for the Spanish-Colonial 
Art Society. 

V. Adams: Which Mary Austin was very active in. 

Adams: And, of course, I was staying with Bynner in that beautiful house. 
But Bynner would party until one in the morning, and then he'd 
work with his secretary. 

V. Adams: He was stimulated, I guess. 


Adams: The party would go until four or five, and he wouldn't get up 

until two the next day, but I'd have to get up around dawn to get 

V. Adams: He [Bynner] would go out and work in the early morning in his 
garden, then retire. He often did it after work with his 
secretary, at seven and eight. Then he'd go to bed. 

V. Adams: Yes. His day was over I mean, night was over. 

Adams: He'd get up at two or three to attend the affairs of the day. Cut 
his coupons and order the meals. [Laughter] 

V. Adams: He had a wonderful cook, Rita. She was with him for many years. 

Teiser: Who was his secretary? 

Adams: He had several. I forget just who it was. 

V. Adams: Was his name Gorman the one that we knew first? 

Adams: There was Gorman; then there was McCarthy a wild Irishman, 

V. Adams: Then there was the last one. He died before Hal [Witter Bynner] 
did, and Hal felt very badly about that, because they'd shared so 
much. He'd built a whole addition to his house that was for this 
young man, and then he was gone before Hal. I don't remember now. 

Teiser: Did you know Witter Bynner when he was in Berkeley? 
Adams: No, I never knew him at that time. 

V. Adams: Not until he came back and we were at Cedric's [Cedric Wright's], 
That must have been '28, because we were living at Cedric's house 
on Etna Street, Berkeley. 

Adams: I didn't know him before I went to Santa Fe. 
V. Adams: Yes, we met him there. 

Teiser: Frank Applegate there's an awfully good picture you made of him 
that's in The Eloquent Light. 

Adams: Oh yes, with a cigarette ash. 
V. Adams: Oh, he was great. 


Adams: He was an artist. Of course, he was ill I think he had TB or 

some such disease. He was from New Jersey, and he came out to New 
Mexico. He was a pretty shrewd man. He built adobe houses to sell 
them. Then he would study the santos he had a great working 
knowledge of the bultos and santos. He would acquire them and 
restore them, and that has driven the museum people absolutely 
wild, because the restorations are confusingly good in many 
instances. He had no idea of the "museology" of what he was doing. 

V. Adams: You know he was a painter. If he could put a little more paint on 
something pick it up a little bit 

Adams: He'd retouch it and fix it up put in a little new gesso, etc. 

V. Adams: But he first came out from New Jersey and was sent to the Hopi 

country. They were having trouble with their pottery. It was too 
fragile. And he apparently knew something about clay. And they 
lived in one of the Hopi pueblos for, I imagine, a year or so. 
And I said to his wife, Alta, "What did you do for the bathroom?" 
She said, "Fortunately, it was an old house that had another room 
that nobody used, with a dirt floor," so they did just what the 
cats and dogs do. They had one daughter who was just a little bit 
of a girl. 

Then they went on to Santa Fe. 

Adams: But he was quite successful. He had one of the most beautiful 
new houses that is, in the real pueblo style. He added to a 
beautiful old adobe; everything was absolutely authentic. 

V. Adams: We'll have to show you some of the pictures. 
Adams: He really knew what he was doing. 

V. Adams: And Ansel took a lot of pictures of furniture chests and things 
for a hoped-for book that Mary Austin and Applegate were going to 

Adams: I'll have to remind Ted Organ [Ansel Adams's assistant] that one of 
my priority projects is finishing the early New Mexico pictures for 
E. Boyd of the Museum.* And why they don't send me a bomb in a 
package, because of my delay, I don't know. 

*Added by Ansel Adams in July 1977: "I was doing a series of 
pictures of Spanish-American art and furniture, etc. for Mary Austin 
and Frank Applegate. That folded, and E. Boyd asked for the pictures 
I made. She died a couple of years ago [30 September 1974]. I 
suppose the negatives still have value." 


Teiser: Have you promised her a show? 

Adams: It isn't that. It's all these things that aren't fine photographs, 
but they're invaluable records. 

V. Adams: They're records, because this was 1927-8-9. 

Adams: [To Ted Organ] Ted, we ought to wash them and refix them and reduce 
them many of them, and really make 

V. Adams: When's he going to have time to do this? 
Adams: Oh, he'll have time. 

V. Adams: Remember, you promised that he could photograph some of my Indian 
baskets for records, but he's never going to have time to. 

Adams: That's another story. 

V. Adams: I know. 

Adams: You're on tape now. [Laughter] 

Indian Art and Architecture 

Teiser: Let's at least note that you have a fine Indian basket collection. 
Back to New Mexico 

Adams: Well, New Mexico's a very complex mystique, and I reacted strongly 
to it. One very interesting thing is that I'm really a heathen. 
My family I suppose were Episcopalian originally, but half of them 
became converted Catholics. Neither my mother or my father or my 
immediate family on that side had any direct interest in religion 
at all. I never went to church, and Papa was a constructive 
heathen, and I hope I am too. But the dichotomy of the situation 
is that always the primitive Indians' Catholic life, their works 
of art and their moradas, were profound in their emotional effect 
on me, and a lot of my photographs relate to cemeteries and some 
of those beautiful frescoes and objects. I look at it as a kind of 
folk art a transcription of intense feeling of people. (And I 
would probably do the same thing in Hawaii with the Buddhists.) As 
far as doing it from the point of view of a Catholic, people don't 
understand why I should be interested. And of course the people 
down there didn't like you to photograph their old, used-up 
cemeteries because they're not taken care of. Now some are taken 
care of, which is ruining the "mood." 


Adams : 

V. Adams: 

Teiser : 
V. Adams: 


V. Adams: 
Adams : 

V. Adams: 

Adams : 

The Mormons, for instance, deeply resented our photographing old 
barns and old things, because they were trying to raise everything 
up to the new qualities and standards. But the people down there 
in New Mexico have really deteriorated now tremendously, and 
these cemeteries are a kind of desolation. The women can't mud 
the adobes any more. You used to see them out there putting it on 
by hand. Every year they used to go over the buildings. They 
can't do it any more, so they have to stucco these buildings. 
They put tin roofs on them. (That beautiful church in Hernandez 
in my "Moonrise" picture now has a tin roof.) But there's nothing 
else they can do, because there is no way to take care of it. 

With adobe structures, it takes a constant putting on of mud. 
That's what gives it its peculiar texture and shape. The people 
who fake it, they do it with a brush, you see. When they use the 
mud, they just go over it and over it filling in the little cracks. 

When Georgia O'Keeffe redid her house, she was able to get knowledg- 
able people, and the women really did do it the old way. 

It was always woman's work, wasn't it? 

Yes, that was. The men, I guess, made the adobes, dried them and 
stacked them up, but when it came to the plastering, men and women 
worked at it. And the Mexicans did the same thing. 

But there's an interesting thing, that some of the people were 
doing that with cement. They'd get a very careful cement stucco 
and give it the right color and then put it on by hand. It isn't 
exactly the same but it lasts longer 

Yes, of course it lasts. 

Adobe is built with straw to hold it together, 
kind of adobe soil is available. 

It depends on what 

One of the things that was so interesting to me was that they 
could analyze something about the flowers and things that were 
growing at the time an adobe brick was made, because they used 
this straw for the stuff that made it stay together. And they 
could work out the flora 'way in the early days. 

But now they use, of course, the modern adobe, and many houses are 
being built with that. But that is usually sized with a binder and 
it makes it very strong. 

You see, some of these places have serious trouble because of 
what they call the "main vigas" the cross beams. Most of the 
adobe buildings were really small except the churches, and there 


Adams : 

V. Adams 
V. Adams: 
Adams : 
V. Adams ; 
Adams : 

V . Adams : 

Adams : 
V. Adams; 

Adams : 

they had trouble. But they had enough sense to make a wood lintel 
or a brick coping across, I guess you'd call the top of the walls, 
because the heavy beam would gradually compress the adobe. And so 
they founded what they called the "Spanish colonial" style. They 
were built of adobe, but built very trimly very accurately with 
a brick coping, and then the beams rested on that. 

And we saw Senator Cutting's house, 
colonial house. 

It is a great classic 

You see, the real adobe is what they call the primitive, 
natural adobe. Then you have the colonial type, which is for more 
sophisticated people, who really did design the architecture. But 
they're walled-in adobe, and very trim, and the windows have the 
colonial cut. And they're still beautiful; the walls are about 
five feet thick. 

Have you been inside the Carmel Mission? 

Yes, but not recently. 

There's the same feeling there. 

Yes, but that's been very carefully restored. 

They have restored that, yes, but 

It went to pieces fast before Harry Downie took charge of the 

I learned a lot about adobe I Frank and I would tour all over 
the region. We went to moradas. I have a beautiful interior of a 
morada. A morada was a penitente chapel. The penitentes were 
were they actually excommunicated? 

They were at one time, yes. Yes. What happened was that the 
Catholics went away from there, and these little village people 
kept on with their religion 

In their own way. 

In their own way. And this penitente thing that gets talked about, 
where they whip themselves and all the Fathers when they came back 
strongly disapproved of that. 

The Fathers were German Jesuits. Let's see, in the first days they 
were Franciscans and very sympathetic to the natives. But when 
the German priests came (I think they were Jesuits) , they ordered 
the old relics thrown out; said they were heathen relics! And 
they imported those hideous plaster things from Rome. So we would 


Adams: go into strange places and find beautiful old things, most of 

which have now been sold or put into a museum. Once in a while 
there are some remaining, like the altars at santuarios. Many 
were the most beautiful things I've ever seen. And all too often 
there is an Italianate picture of the Virgin or statue with 
pink cheeks and all otherwise terrible. But they'd dress them up 
and put all kinds of geegaws around them. 

V. Adams: It remains very close to their hearts, as I think is true with all 
peasant groups now. 

Ella Young 

V. Adams: I want you to talk about the time when Ella Young went down with 
us to Santa Fe. 

Adams: Well, that's really a story I 

V. Adams: There's an interim there, of course. But while we're talking about 
that, and before I go and do other things, let's talk about 

Adams: You can cut in on this. 
V. Adams: Yes. 

Adams: Well, Ella Young was an Irish poet, also an Irish revolutionary. 
She was a doctor of jurisprudence; she really was a lawyer. She 
was also a very mythical-minded Irish lady who was always seeing 
little people wonderful stories about that] 

V. Adams: Her father I think was a minister not Catholic, but a minister, of 
whatever the faith was. And she got away from that, and she lived 
in Dublin with Maude Gonne, who was a very fine actress and a great 
friend of the Irish writer William Butler Yeats. I think she was 
his lady friend. 

Anyway, she lived there with them and they actually were 
active in that 1916 uprising. Now I don't know that the public 
has ever known much about it. But she told me one time that they 
did have guns in their home. I think she was kind of a helper to 
this Maude Gonne. 

Adams: She barely escaped; she got out of Ireland. 

V. Adams: And I think whoever was her boyfriend was killed, but I never knew 
who it was. 


V. Adams: But one time she took us with her when we went to lunch, with the 
Monsignor at St. Patrick's in San Francisco. 

Adams: Marvelous man. 

V. Adams: Yes, a charming person, and she'd known him in Ireland. And we 
all had lunch together. I felt so sorry for him, because the 
old lady that kept the house for him really didn't keep it clean. 

Adams: Dusty, you know. 

V. Adams: It really was. But it was wonderful for Ella Young to visit him 
again, and they talked a little bit about it [the 1916 uprising]. 
But if you ever have a chance to look up something about Maude 
Gonne apparently she was very beautiful and quite active in that 
revolutionary movement. 

Adams: She wasn't one of the women in my_ life. [Laughter] 

V. Adams: No, no. 

Adams: our lives. I must make this very precise. 

V. Adams: But anyway, this Ella Young was a marvelous person. 

Adams: She wrote Gaelic fairy tales. 

V. Adams: I'll show you some of her books. 

Adams: She always wore purple veils or scarfs. And we always used to 

meet at Colonel [C.E.S.] Wood's place. At Colonel Wood's eightieth 

V. Adams: which was your fiftieth. 

Adams: everybody got cockeyed on the Colonel's wonderful red wine, and 
she read the benediction in Gaelic wearing a purple scarf, hanging 
on, as I remember, to the top of an Italianate chair. She could, 
of course, speak beautiful Gaelic. She would declare that she saw 
all the little people. And she practiced all kinds of little 
rituals . 

Now, we decided that we would go to New Mexico. And I have 
pictures of you and Ella and others taken in New Mexico. 

V. Adams: We had to wait until after Albert Bender's St. Patrick's Day party. 
We left the next day and picked her up at Halcyon, which is down 
the coast, below Pismo Beach. 


Adams: Where the elder Varians lived. It was a theosophy colony. 

We drove to New Mexico and had a couple of close calls. They 
were rebuilding the road near Taos and it caved in. 

V. Adams: Well, wasn't that coming south from Taos? 

Adams: Yes. Ella when she got to the Arizona border (she always wanted 
to know when she entered a new state) she left the car and poured 
a little wine on the ground. 

V. Adams: And at every lunch on the trip we offered a libation to the gods. 
We'd have wine and cheese and other things in our lunches. She 
was lovely I 

Adams: For a practical man like me, it was a little screwy, but it had a 
great charm. 

V. Adams: Well, it was fun. We were young and this was funl 

Adams: So we got along fine down there. But she was very proper. Of 
course, Bynner immediately kisses every woman who shows up. 

V. Adams: She didn't want to be kissed? 
Adams: She refused to be kissed by Bynner. 
V. Adams: Well, I don't blame her. 

Adams: "Oh, come on Ella, you're just a friend." "No! My resolution.'" 
[Laughter] So Ella was the only one that was not "smacked." 
Everybody got "smacked," from six up to sixty-nine. 

V. Adams: She had gone to stay with a friend of hers some woman whose name 
I don't remember, some woman who'd been hurt in an accident and 
blamed the railroad blamed somebody. She was suing like mad, and 
she was really very ill. She was living in one of the little old 
houses that were railroad houses you know, in New Mexico the 
typical ones red brick and sooty yards. 

Ella Young had told us that she would like to go and see 
Mabel Luhan, and she said, "I understand that if you get invited 
to Mabel's, you can stay." 

Adams: You're in. 

V. Adams: That's right. So we had been there a very short time. We were 

staying at Mary Austin's little house, and there was a party next 
door, and Mabel came. And I guess Ella Young was the one, wasn't 


V. Adams: it, that the party was for maybe she'd lectured or something do 
you remember about that? Well anyway, it was through Ella Young, 
really, that we got the idea that if you were "in" with Mabel that 
you got to go to Taos. [To Ansel Adams] Go on, go on. 

Adams: Well, Mabel was one thing, and Ella Young was another. Ella Young 
absolutely believed that New Mexico had little people, like 
Ireland. So she kept talking about the little people she'd seen. 
And Bynner was very skeptical of these things. I had a fairly 
open mind; all the Indians I knew are quite real, but I'd never 
heard of little Indian people. Bynner said, "Now would you 
describe to me just how they look?" And she did, and she had a 
most minute description. They had Hopi shoes, and Navajo pants and 
skirts, and Sioux headdresses. [Laughter] War bonnets; all of them 
had little war bonnets on. 

Ella would talk, and Bynner was absolutely fascinated, because 
he felt that she had a great poetic quality. 

Now, she was sponsored and protected, during the remaining 
years of her life, by Noel Sullivan. And you can tie in a lot of 
things of Ella Young through the Noel Sullivan history. 

V. Adams: She was a great person, really; a very lovely person. 

Adams: So one day we were up at Mabel's place, and O'Keeffe was there 
Georgia O'Keeffe. And let's see, I was sitting at breakfast with 
Mabel, and in came Ella with a blue scarf. And then a little 
later, in came O'Keeffe. 

So Ella said, "Well, good morning. How did you enjoy your 
walk?" O'Keeffe says, "What walk?" 

V. Adams: Aren't you getting it the other way around? Didn't O'Keeffe say 
that to Ella? 

Adams: Yes I stand corrected! O'Keeffe came in and said to Ella Young, 
"How did you enjoy your walk?" And Ella said, "What walk?" 
Georgia said, "I was up in my room and I saw you walking out 
towards the morada." And Ella said, "No, I didn't." 

"Well," she said, "I saw you. You opened the gate. You 
closed it carefully, and you walked on towards the morada, which is 
about half a mile." Ella says, "I never did any such thing," and 
is looking a little bit dismal. And O'Keeffe says, "But I saw you." 

"Well, you didn't see me. You must have seen something, but 
you didn't see me." And Mabel was getting quite distressed; this 
whole thing was quite argumentative. But O'Keeffe was quite sure. 


Adams: And Ella said, "Well, it must have been my astral body." And then 
O'Keeffe came back and said, "Well, I don't know what it was, but 
it was something!" [Laughter] 

But this is the kind of thing that was going on all the time. 
It was all crazy as the devil, but it's funny. 

Santa Fe People 

Adams: So there was Marin and O'Keeffe and Paul Strand at Mabel's. 
That's where I met Marin. 

V. Adams: That was later on. 

Adams: I can't get the sequence right; these things are all telescoped 
over a few years. 

Well, then Mary Austin fixed it up with the Taos governor 
through Tony 

V. Adams: Mabel Luhan's husband, Tony Luhan. 

Adams: fixed it up for me to come and photograph Taos to do a book 
with her. 

Teiser: They were very careful about who they'd let in at Taos? 

Adams: Yes, they had an all-night council meeting and finally decided I 
could do it. 

V. Adams: We did a book about Taos Pueblo. Have you seen that book? We'll 
have to show you, if you haven't seen it. It's a big book. 

Teiser: This is the 1930 book, Taos Pueblo? 

Adams: Yes. Mary Austin wrote the text. The crazy thing was, you see, 

that Mary Austin had it a bit on Mabel. Because Mabel had Tony as 
a chauffeur when she first came, and then she fell heavy for Tony. 
And it was no matter that Tony had an Indian wife. So there was 
some legal or illegal divorcement. Then Mary Austin suddenly moved 
in; she had to protect the Indian wife because of her avowed interest 
in the Indians. She arranged that Mabel pay alimony to the Indian 
wife as long as she lived. Of course, Mabel was a tremendously 
wealthy woman, so it couldn't possibly have affected her. [Laughter] 


Adams: There's a marvelous story about Mabel. Let's see, it's "Mabel 
Dodge Sterne Evans Luhan."* 

Well, Edwin Dodge was sitting in his club in New York. And 
somebody came in and said, "Guess what your ex-wife has done." 
And he said, "I haven't got the slightest idea. She can do 
anything." Well, she's going to marry a full-blooded Taos Indian." 
Edwin looked around and raised his head and said, "Lo, the poor 
Indian!" [Laughter] 

When she married Maurice Sterne everybody's dead now she 
met him in Europe at a salon in Florence or Venice or somewhere, 
and they got married. And Mabel went to New Mexico on the 
honeymoon, and he went to Florida. [Laughter] So you get some 
idea of the whole situation involved in this thing. 

Then Evans came before that. 
V. Adams: She'd had one son, John Evans. 

Adams: John Evans was quite a nice guy. Saw his house in Santa Fe. Of 
all the crazy things to build in the Santa Fe country, it's an 
English manor house, but that's what he did. 

V. Adams: They came from New York. 

Adams: Well, let's see. The Santa Fe experience was a very complex inter 
mingling of work with Frank Applegate and Mary Austin. 

Teiser: What was the original concept of that project? 

Adams: It was to be a book on Spanish-American art and decoration. 

Teiser: As a whole? 

Adams: As a whole. It was very vague. There' d never been a real 

scholar involved. It was the first time I realized, I think, what 
the difference between the interest of a dilettante and a real 
scholar is. Because nobody was analyzing this. They'd say, "Well, 
there's a chest," and you'd go and photograph that and nobody was 
really getting this project organized. That's what E. Boyd, who 
was an art history person with the museum, a really highly trained 
person, could do. 

V. Adams: And quite a characterl 

*Born Mabel Ganson, she married successively Carl Evans, Edwin 
Dodge, Maurice Sterne, and Antonio Luhan. 


Adams: Oh, she's marvelous, yes. There was Marie Garland 
V. Adams: Hamlin Garland's ex-wife. 

Adams: She married Henwar Rodakiewicz Polish; he's one of my oldest 
friends, and he's still living in New York. He's a creative 
cinema man. 

And we had many parties out there at their ranch north of 
Santa Fe. 

V. Adams: It's a marvelous place 

Adams: It's still there. 

Teiser: How did all these people happen to be living around Santa Fe? 

V. Adams: Because they liked to live in that country. It's just like people 
like to live in Carmel. It just does something to you makes you 
happy to be there. But they have to have enough money to be able 
to live there, because you don't live on the country. 

Adams: There are a great many wealthy easterners. It's an impossible 

place for a gringo to make a living, except a few bankers who can 
sure milk the native populace. But you had some very wealthy 
families the White sisters from Boston, and the McCormicks, and 
any number of people came who had the means just to live. Witter 
Bynner was financially independent; Arthur Davidson Ficke made a 
fortune in Japanese prints. Mary Austin was probably one of the 
few really hard-working people who lived there writing. 

V. Adams: But some of the artists live there now by the skin of their teeth. 

Adams: Yes. Of course, a lot of the good artists, they'd sell a few 

things there, but they'd send most of their work east. Like all 
the good artists here rarely show in Carmel. The Carmel Art 
Association has an occasional show for many of the few very fine 
artists around here, but some of them I've never seen. 

Teiser: Was Frieda Lawrence still around? 

V. Adams: She wasn't around when we were there. 

Adams: I never met [D.H.] Lawrence; Lawrence was before my time. 

V. Adams: Did you meet her? I never met her. 

Adams: Oh, I met Frieda once. And then I met Toby Toby's the name of 
the ear trumpet. 


V. Adams: Oh, Brett! The Honorable Dorothy Brett, who had a trumpet named 

Adams: She was deaf. [Laughter] But when she really became impassioned 

in discussion, she'd put the trumpet down in her lap and just talk 
to you perfectly normally. But if she was bored or something, 
she'd put this up and say, "What?" [Laughter] 

V. Adams: She's still in existence, isn't she? 
Adams: Oh yes, I think so. 

The most wonderful group of nuts you can possibly imagine! 
Teiser: You mentioned 'someone named Long? 

Adams: Haniel. He was a writer and poet. I think he was a friend of 
MacLeish Archibald MacLeish, but I don't really know. 

V. Adams: He was a writer and he published things in the Santa Fe area. 

Adams: And he also published in the East. But again, most of these 

people had income from outside. Of course, now Santa Fe is a big 
place, and lots of people can make money there, in real estate and 
stores and so on, but it still is not a real money-producing place. 
Albuquerque depends largely on science NASA, you know, the Sandia 
base. And the farming, and the cattle and all that is really small 
family stuff still, isn't it? 

V. Adams: Well, I don't know. 

Adams: I don't think there are any great corporate farms, like there are 
in California. 

Teiser: You mentioned Will Shuster 

V. Adams: Yes, he was an artist painter. 

Adams: Oh, there were so many I can't think of all of them. 

Taos Pueblo 

Teiser: Whose idea was the Taos book yours, or Mary Austin's? 

Adams: I think, frankly, it was mine. I mentioned it to Albert Bender, 

and he thought it was a good idea, and said to see if Mary would do 
the text. And Mary would do the text. And then, Albert got Grabhorn 


Adams: to do the typography. And Dassonville, who was a photographer and 
manufactured, at that time, the finest photographic paper, which 
was pure silver bromide on rag paper, he was going to coat the 
paper. So we ordered a quantity from a New England mill, which 
was divided between Grabhorn and Dassonville the same paper stock. 
And the only thing that we missed on was that the paper should have 
been soaked before it was printed by Grabhorn, because the paper 
was fairly smooth when it came, but when it was coated with the 
photographic emulsion and then developed, fixed, and washed, it 
took on a certain texture a little different from the printed 
sheets in the book. Apparently, the sheets differ in look and 
feel although they're both exactly the same basic paper. And that 
was before the time of toning, before the time we knew about two 
hypo baths. And some of these prints are not permanent, which 
bothers me very much a few are "turning" a little. 

V. Adams: The Book Club [of California] is kind of interested in the idea of 
republishing it. 

Adams: Yes, it could be published 

V. Adams: Nobody has ever read this text except the hundred people who 
bought the book. It's a charming essay. 

Adams: You'd have to just use a printing process that would simulate the 
qualities of the prints probably right from the page. 

V. Adams: The linen for the binding, the rust-colored linen, was dyed 

by Hazel Dreiss, and she made the binding and the end-papers. 

Adams: The end leather, they call it. 

V. Adams: It came from England. 

Adams: No, from Algeria. 

V. Adams: Anyway, it's very special. 

Adams: Everybody was broke, and Hazel Dreiss called up and said, "The 

leather for the book's here, but there's a four-hundred-dollar bill, 
and I don't have it. Do you have it?" And I said, "No." 

"Well, who's got that money? It will be returned if I don't 
pay it. So who do I call?" I said, "Albert Bender." He said, 
"All right" and sent the check (as usual.'.').* 

*See also other references to Taos Pueblo as indexed. 


V. Adams: He was a wonderful person. 

Adams: He always came through, and he was not a rich man he was well-to-do 
but nothing much above average. 

V. Adams: He'd earned it in his insurance business; he'd worked hard. 
Adams: He lived alone. But he was the most generous person. 

Teiser: In Mrs. Newhall's book, it says he had a housekeeper who was a 
terrible cook. 

Adams: Oh, perfectly awful. 

V. Adams: Mrs. Ayres. 

Teiser: Do you recall Anne Bremer? 

V. Adams: That was a cousin of his, a very sweet person, I guess. I never 
met her. Did you meet her? 

Adams: An artist I met her once very hazy recollection of it. 

V. Adams: And then she died; he was very fond of her. 

Adams: That was his great personal tragedy. 

Teiser: Over how long a period did you photograph Taos? 

Adams: I did it all in one year, I think. 

V. Adams: That spring of 1929. 

Teiser: All in one season? 

Adams: I think I came back later and did one photograph. And of course 
there is in the book the great church of the Ranches de Taos, 
which has nothing to do with Taos Pueblo and really should not be 
in the book. But it was so closely identified with the area! 

V. Adams: And was so beautiful. 

Adams: It is the greatest building of its kind in America. It's just an 
incredible thing. And we put that in, called the Ranches church, 
and Mary Austin thought it was all right to do it. But we had the 
old church ruins, the new church, and then the Ranches church. And 
seeing that these were the intrusions of the Catholics, it didn't 
make much difference; but strictly, it's not Taos Pueblo. 

V. Adams: Well, they're old and new 


Adams: I made a picture of a kiva in a dust storm. The camera was 

shaking in the gale. I really got into Taos ; to do it today, 
you'd do it totally differently. 

V. Adams: You couldn't do it today, Ansel. Because it's different. I mean, 
there were still the people there who really felt for it. Now, 
you're just a tourist and you pay your money and you get to take 
some pictures 

Adams: Yes, but I still think if you went there, and wanted to do a 

definitive book not on a tourist basis that you could do it. 
You'd have to pay for it, which you should. 

Teiser: Did you then? 

Adams: I gave them a book. I think I paid a hundred dollars too. 

V. Adams: Mary Austin said they wrapped the book in deerskin and put it in 
their archives. 

Adams: It's in the kiva. 

Teiser: Oh, it is! 

V. Adams: It's very precious. 

Teiser: Did they help you? Were they interested in what you were doing? 

Adams: Oh yes. They were very good. The word went out to help. And I 
didn't have any trouble at all, except one time a big fat Indian 
jumps on the running board of the car: "Pay me one dollar." And 
I said no, it was already paid for. We paid a hundred dollars for 
the right to do the book. He said, "Pay me one dollar." And I 
speeded up the car and he almost fell off, and I felt bad about it. 

I told Tony [Luhan] about it. "Oh, he damn fool. Pay no 
attention." [Laughter] 

Teiser: Was Tony Luhan a Taos Indian? 

Adams: Full-blooded Taos Indian, yes. Slightly ostracized 
V. Adams: Well, he'd sloughed off his wife- 
Adams: Of course, Mabel did a lot for the Taos Indians. 

V. Adams: One time I went with Tony to the Indian school, and he talked to 

some little boys who must have been his children. He said, "They're 
my nephews . " 


Teiser: The picture of Tony in the Taos book was done in San Francisco? 
Adams: The picture of Tony was done in my studio in San Francisco. 

V. Adams: It was so thrilling. He would take just a little drum that we had 
and he would sit in the yard and sing, and all the neighborhood 
kids would come around. Oh, it was such fun. He was sweet. 

Adams: It was really an experience. 

Teiser: There's such a big literature on all this, and often Tony Luhan is 
made fun of. 

Adams: Well, the point is that an awful lot of sophisticates try to get 
on this bandwagon, and they really don't know anything about it, 
you see. Hearsay, and second hearsay, and all kinds of very 
strange misinterpretations. But I think he was much more naive 
than anybody could imagine. But Mabel was a hunter, and she 
hunted all the prominent people to bring there; she literally 
captured them! 

V. Adams: She took us up to that cave, I don't know where it was. 
Adams: Wasn't it near the Blue Lakes? 

V. Adams: No. Arroyo something I don't know. We went up the valley, as if 
we were going to Colorado, and then we went up a canyon. 

Adams: Oh yes, I know. 

V. Adams: And it was something that was supposed to be very serious, and 

the light came down at a certain angle at a certain time. And she 
said maybe the Aztecs had been there. I mean, it was very super- 
super. And some girl she'd taken there just felt that she saw 
them all there, and she crawled out of the cave 

Adams: She was slightly fey. 

V. Adams: She had a feel for all those things. [Laughter] 

[End Tape 7, Side 2] 

[Begin Tape 8, Side 1] 

Adams: Well, I think an analysis of this whole Mabel Luhan business would 
be exciting, because she, of course, had, as I said, a tremendous 
amount of money and influence. 

V. Adams: You've read some of her books, haven't you? 


Teiser: Yes. 

Adams: She had a salon in Italy, and she was always gathering people unto 
her. And the biggest feather in her cap it was quite a struggle 
was to get Lawrence to New Mexico. Now, as far as I can make out, 
from reading the things and knowing her, that poor old Lawrence 
was dragged there by his beard, and was very unhappy, because he 
became sort of a curiosity. She could afford anything, and she 
just kept these people; she would collect these celebrities. 

V. Adams: She probably fought with Frieda, didn't she? 

Adams: She fought with everybody, in the end. We got along all right; but 

she was mad at me one time furious. 

Teiser: Why? 

Adams: I don't know; I guess I wasn't sympathetic enough. If you ever 

raised your voice in the slightest bit of criticism, you were out. 
But I never really got out, I just got put in the dog house. 

V. Adams: You didn't fall for her, Ansel; you know, that's one of the things. 

Adams: You see, I didn't have any concept at all of being a celebrity, of 
being important to anything. 

V. Adams: Well, you were just a young man 

Adams: I was just trying to do photographs. Of course, now you have this 
feeling people tell you you're celebrated or well known, and so 
on. It didn't make any impression on me because this is the kind 
of thing that only historians can define, and I know I've made 
certain contributions, but certainly at that time I was a nonentity 
and was coming on the coattails (if you'll pardon the metaphor) of 
Mary Austin and a few others. 

But Frank Applegate and she had a falling out 
V. Adams: Mabel? 
Adams: Yes. They had a falling out. 

V. Adams: Well, she'd had a falling out with anybody who wasn't under her 
thumb, I think. 

Adams: I think she was hypersexed 

V. Adams: And you and Frank Applegate didn't fall for it. 

Adams: No, thank God.' I must hasten to say that my hyper was very different 
from her hyper. [Loud laughter] Hypo too! 


Adams: Well, anyway, the whole New Mexican picture, of course, is very 
mixed. I think we got through a lot of it. 

V. Adams: Well, we did go out to Taos. We did stay at Mabel's, and Ella 
Young stayed at Mabel's. 

Paul Strand and a New Approach 

Adams: And that's where I met Paul Strand and saw his negatives, which 
changed my whole direction in photography. This was after I had 
done the Taos book pictures. Then I saw Paul Strand's negatives, 
and the approach was something so tremendous to me that I literally 
changed my approach. And I can say that when I came back to 
California the seed of the Group f/64 movement was sown. 

While other people had been working with the "straight" idea, 
I don't think other people had ever stretched it as much. We made 
it a bit of a cult, in a sense that isn't the right word what 
would you say? 

V. Adams: I don't know, but you all got together and said, "Now this is the 
way we feel photography should be," and they talked about how to 
do it, and what kind of a name to give the approach. 

Adams: I'm trying to get the bridge between my experience with Strand and 
my change of style. My change was very definite after that. I 
think I was with the exception of Weston the first one to make 
the change, and then many others followed. 

I'll never forget one photographer (I can't remember his name), 
when I did my Golden Gate picture before the bridge 1933, I 
guess*, and Albert had it published a little printed thing to give 
all his friends; he called it a keepsake. This man was perfectly 
furious, because he said, "This isn't the Golden Gate." And it was 
nothing but jealousy, probably because he'd tried to take it, but 
I was lucky and had a good day and beautiful clouds. We've never 
been able to find out what he meant by saying, "This isn't the 
Golden Gate." Was it because it wasn't his concept, or was he 
peeved over the clouds? 

V. Adams: Did he want to see it looking the other way? 

*It is titled "Golden Gate, 1932" in The Eloquent Light. 


Adams: No, because the Golden Gate is as you come in it's the gate to 

the harbor, not the gate to the ocean. So for quite a time there 
was a little conjecture on this statement, "This isn't the Golden 
Gate." And it was a very cryptic statement. It probably was that 
the Golden Gate was really mostly fogbound, and that we had a 
glorious pile-up of cumulus clouds, which is unusual, and it was 
a damned good photograph, and he hadn't made any one as good as 
that, so he was probably jealous. And I never have seen a 
photograph that carried quite those qualities, and I think that's 
entirely a matter of luck, because I lived near there and I saw 
these clouds, and so on! 

V. Adams: How big a picture could you make of that now? 

Adams: Oh, I have 30 by 40 40 by 60 inch enlargements. It's a little 
soft. I used an old Kodak film, but I made the best prints I've 
ever made of it just the other day, 

V. Adams: Just looking at all these big things today and the ones that were 
good and the ones that weren't good enough is quite an experience. 

Adams: That's it. Yes. Now, I don't know why that isn't the Golden Gate. 

V. Adams: I don't know why it isn't either. 

Adams: Except that probably the man didn't like clouds. 

V. Adams: Well, Ansel, did you use any of that in the American Trust book? 
[The Pageant of History in Northern California] 

Adams: No, I don't think that's in it. 

V. Adams: He did a lot of pictures for the new Bank of California. 

Teiser: When? 

Adams: Within the past decade. I have three rooms in the new building [the 
headquarters building in San Francisco]: the Washington room, the 
Oregon room, and the California room. You go and ask, "Can they be 
seen today?" It would be a very good idea to see it; it might be 
interesting to see how pictures are used in decor in a room. 
They're all stainless steel frames. 

For the book I did for Wells Fargo Bank that was the American 
Trust Company then we wanted "The Triumph of Enterprise" as its 
title. And the one powerful man on the board of directors was the 
stupidest man I've ever seen. He said, "I don't want any of that 
crap. That's one of those goddamned phony titles. I want to call 
it a 'Pageant of History in Northern California'." I had to give in 
to it. But imagine: "Triumph of Enterprise" tells the whole story 
so beautifullv. 


V. Adams: Beautifully. 

Adams: Maybe I should suggest they do a new book called "The Triumph of 

Enterprise." But it was the triumph of enterprise. It's California 
that was nothing at first, begins in gold, but that's only part of 
the development. In fact, there was a very interesting discussion 
in Yosemite that most of the gold was taken out of California by 
the Spaniards long before they left. 

V. Adams: Not most, but lots. 

Adams: Well, there was all the surface gold. Much more gold than we ever 
got out of it in our mining. They cleaned out stream after stream. 
This is something which somebody's got to do a lot of research in. 
And it was a hundred and something years before the Anglos came 
over. But the gold was lying right there in the stream and was 
perfectly obvious. And they left some until Sutter's man [James 
Marshall] found it. 

V. Adams: In Southern California they certainly were mining earlier. 

Adams: They apparently were all over the place. 

V. Adams: That is a thing I would need to have more documentation on. 

Adams: Well, it is a very important thing. And historians shy clear 
because there isn't more documentation. 

Santa Fe People, Continued 

V. Adams: Ansel, one of the times when you were at Taos, Becky [Mrs. Paul] 
Strand and Georgia O'Keeffe lived in one of Mabel's houses across 
a meadowland. And then later on you went up there, maybe to take 
that one picture that you wanted to do afterwards, and for some 
reason or other, Mabel was upset 

Adams: Said she had no room for me. And Becky Strand stood up for me and 
said, "Mabel, that big studio is entirely vacant, and you put Adams 
up in that studio." (Everybody in Stieglitz's group called 
everybody by his last name.) "Or else!" And by gosh, I was over 
there in a cot in this enormous studio. 

V. Adams: But Mabel was just mad at the time, and she didn't want anything to 
do with Ansel. 

Adams: Very mercurial. But she was very nice the last time I saw her before 
she died, and so I have 


V. Adams: 


V . Adams ; 

V. Adams: 

V. Adams: 


V. Adams: 

V. Adams : 

V. Adams: 

Adams : 
V. Adams: 

They came down here to Carmel a number of times. And I guess one 
of her last times was to get Robinson Jeffers and his family to 
come to Taos . 

Oh, that was a tragedy, because she got him and started putting 
Robin on the make, and Una attempted suicide in the bathtub cut 
her wrists, but it was a failure. It was that kind of an intense 
situation. If you didn't have a clinical approach to life... 

Well now, what more about New Mexico, while you're thinking about 

To conclude the story about Robinson Jeffers, he went? 
Yes. And wrote some poems. 

He went down to Taos, yes. And his wife was so upset about it that, 
of course, it ruined everybody's point of view. 

Yes, that was really terrible. 

After that, I guess, they went to Ireland once or twice, and they 
had a happy time there. Mabel, for once, didn't really win. 

Mabel was after Robin, and that was it. And Una wasn't going to 
take it. I don't know what his attitude was. I suppose he she 
was a bedazzling person. I mean, you had this opulence and style 

I don't think opulence would affect him, but she was an intelligent 

Well, it was intellectual opulence. And Una was a very quiet 
person very intelligent and nice but there was a very great 
difference from the quiet of the Tor House in Carmel to this super 
spectacular landscape and house at Taos. 

Probably Jeffers just hid behind his pipe and didn't say much of 

Well, you don't know. 

We don't know. We weren't around at that time. 

What sort of a woman was Mary Austin? Was she a commanding person 

She was a commando! [Laughter] She thought she was the most 
beautiful woman alive. 

Well, not beautiful physically 


Adams: Oh yes, the most beautiful and appealing woman. 
V. Adams: Noble. 

Teiser: Well, in your picture reproduced in The Eloquent Light she's 

V. Adams: Well, that's the most becoming picture I've ever seen of her. 

Adams: She was very intense. Extremely intelligent. Extremely 

opinionated, and thought that all men were just going to fall 
right at her feet. 

I think I can tell this story about Orage at a party at 
Bynner's, with Mary Austin. This is really very funny. Orage, of 
course, was a provocative person. He was a disciple of Gurdjieff. 

Teiser: I didn't realize he was in the West. 

Adams: Oh yes. We were very good friends, and I have an excellent 
picture of him. 

Well anyhow, they were at Bynner's and Orage was giving a 
little seminar discussion in which he said he figures that the 
value of literary work is entirely what you were paid for it he 
was that kind of a person. He'd say these provocative things, you 

V. Adams: Always stimulating conversation with him! 

Adams: So Mary Austin said, "I dispute this." He said, "Well, Miss Austin, 
history seems to bear this out." She said, "I dispute that." He 
said, "Well, Miss Austin, that's what I believe." She said, "Mr. 
Orage, do you mean to say that if I sell a production novel, or a 
story for the Ladies' Home Journal, for five thousand dollars that 
that's more important than my books on the Southwest, my creative 
series, my creative work?" He said, "Yes. If you sold it for five 
thousand dollars, I would say it was more important." She said, 
"Why, Mr. Orage, I would rather prostitute my body than do that." 
He said, "Don't worry, Miss Austin, you couldn't." [Laughter] Dead 
silence! One of the greatest stories I've ever heard, and I was 
right there when it happened. Oh, that's the kind of thing that 
went on down there all the time, and Bynner was just about blowing 
a cork. He was very, very kind, very intelligent, a very considerate 
man, and he couldn't laugh. I could just see him sort of holding 
back. That was really a great story. 

Teiser: Was working with her difficult? 


Adams: I never had any trouble with Mary. She wrote an iron-bound contract 
on the book with the idea that among friends a contract should be 
severe and nothing left to argument. Can you remember one episode 
that wasn't pleasant? 

V. Adams: No. 

Adams: She was mad at you once, because you didn't have lunch ready for 
the working man that's right. 

V. Adams: I don't remember that. 

Adams: A man was working in the garden, and you said you'd have lunch, and 
it was twelve o'clock and it wasn't quite ready, and she said, "Oh, 
the working man has to have his lunch right on time." But she 
liked you much better than most people. 

V. Adams: I don't even remember that. 

Well, I remember the trouble I had trying to get things ready 
for the working men [in Yosemite] when I was eighteen, but this was 
after I had gotten married. I just don't remember. 

Adams: That's the only thing. Let's see she was mad at me for something 
else. Oh, I wrote a letter to the Yale Press saying that it was 
all right with me to do something extra to the text of The Land of 
Little Rain, but you'd have to check with Mary Austin. And her 
letter to me was, "You have no idea of the terrible thing you have 
done. You should have checked with me first before you wrote the 
Yale Press." 

V. Adams: She stood on her rights. 

Adams: That was perfectly ridiculous, but that was the end of that. I 
mean, we were all very good friends. 

V. Adams: She was awfully nice to us; she was really. 

Taos Pueblo, Continued, and The Land of Little Rain 

Teiser: For the Taos book, did you show her the photographs and she followed 
them with the text? How did it work? 

Adams: No, no. She did the text and left me alone. The text doesn't 

relate to the photographs. It's an essay on Taos. It's very good. 
I think we really should reprint that. 


V. Adams: 
Adams : 
V. Adams: 

Adams : 

V. Adams: 

V. Adams: 
Adams : 
V . Adams : 

V. Adams: 

V . Adams 
Adams : 

I think so . 

I think Morgan & Morgan could do that. 

Well, Jim Holliday was very interested in having the Book Club do 

I still think the artist 

No money in the Book Club, dear, 
deserves payment. 


There are lots of things that you'll never get paid for anywhere 
else that you could let the Book Club do, and of course, the Book 
Club does beautiful things. 

They do a beautiful job. 

But when it comes to a person who's still a professional 

I still would like to see a thing like that done by the Book Club. 

Well, it would never get out to the people, 
small, tight membership, which keeps it. 

It just gets to a 

Well, that's true. But it would be kind of nice. 

I think there's thousands of things done in the twenties, thirties, 
and forties at the Grabhorn Press like Mark Twain's letter to his 
lawyer and laundress, you know completely inconsequential things. 
And done up by such as John Henry Nash in expensive style. 

We don't have very many Nash things, you know. 

No. I thought he was terrible; a fake. Grabhorn was one of the 
greatest printers that ever lived. But if you were very wealthy, 
you could say, "Well, sure, we'll let the Book Club do it, and give 
it as a keepsake." But I'd like to see that Taos book done as a 
facsimile by the Morgans, and I bet they'd sell twenty-five thousand 
copies. And the people would see it, and I'd make some money. I'm 
getting along. I have to begin to make some money and salt it 
away, so I can afford the papers that have my reviews in them. 

I have plenty of things that we could do. I have early pictures 
of the Sierra Club, camp pictures, and groups of the early people, 
and little episodes ideal Book Club stuff. I mean, if I was just to 
give my reminiscences of John Henry Nash well here's the thing: the 
Taos book [Taos Pueblo] . Bender had gotten John Henry Nash to agree 
to do it. Bender said, "I'll subsidize it." I went over to see 


Adams: Nash and he said, "Well, I've got the end-papers for it," which 
were a great big stack of Spanish parchment you know, Gregorian 
chant music sheets! 

"But," I said, "Mr. Nash, Taos is Indian, not Spanish." 
"Pueblo, pueblo that's Spanish." [Laughter] 

So I went back to Albert and I said, "This is hopeless. This 

guy doesn't know what he's talking about. We can't have a Gregorian 

chant as the end-paper." He said, "Well, I guess we'd better talk 
to old Grab." 

Then there was a very interesting episode there, because [Edwin] 
Grabhorn did not print that big a spread as a unit. He printed them 
this side and that side, and for some reason they weren't lined up. 
And so when Hazel Dreis begins to bind it, she finds that the pages 
are misaligned; they will not be parallel in the binding, you see. 

V. Adams: Does that show? Or was she able to correct it? 

Adams: Oh, you couldn't do it. Grabhorn said, "Why, this is absolutely 
crazy. It is absolutely accurate." She laid them out, and he'd 
made them a quarter of an inch off. Well, this wouldn't do Grabhorn 
any good. We just had enough paper left to print it. And he sent 
it to another and larger press [William Eveleth's] and sat over its 

But even the greatest people, you know, can make terrible faux 
pas. And he had never printed anything bigger than what the press 
would take. So he thought that if he fed this in, then reversed it 
not a really work and turn system, but a reversal. And it wasn't 
aligned. So you have to imagine that as the pages became misaligned 
the misalignment would accumulate in the binding! 

And poor Hazel! I remember the perspiration on her forehead. 
She said, "I can't bind it. There's no way to bind it. They don't 
pull. I'd have to cut every sheet, and put them in and correct 
them, and that would cut down the sheet size." And she was 
absolutely right. 

Teiser: Was the book itself a great success? 

Adams: Oh yes. Sold out, and it's worth a fortune now. I don't know what 
it's worth. You'd get a thousand, two thousand, anything you want. 
One of the rarest books there is. 

Harroun: It's a beautiful book. 

Adams: It sold for seventy- five dollars, I think. 


Teiser: But then, on top of that great success, you turned your back on 
that type of photography? 

Adams: On that type of pictorial image. I didn't exactly turn my back on 
it, but I changed. Now the difficulty is and this is a very 
important thing I can't make what I call satisfactory prints from 
most of those negatives, because they were made for another process. 
That was empirical in approach. I didn't know what I was really 
doing in those days. It was all by trial and error. And I can 
print the "Woman Winnowing Grain," and the "Ranches de Taos Church" 
and maybe one or two others like the New Church I can print those 
well now. The others I just can't print on the modern papers. 
They're not sharp enough; they're not decisive. That's why just 
printing the Taos book again wouldn't work. But if you made 
facsimile pictures took them to an engraver to make a facsimile 
plate and did it as a reprint, in a smaller format it could be 
very nice, I think. It's in the public domain now, so anybody can 
do it. 

Teiser: You didn't copyright it? 

Adams: It's copyrighted, but the copyright only runs twenty-eight years. 

Teiser: And you can't renew it now? 

Adams: No, no. In fact The Land of Little Rain is in the public domain, 

and John Muir's writing. You could do a book of The Land of Little 
Rain. You could do it by etchings or drawings or photographs 
anything you want. 

Teiser: That was published in 1950. How did you happen to decide to do it? 

Adams: Well, this meant so much to Mary Austin. I loved the country and 

I had so many pictures of it. I'd like to do that book again; most 
of those pictures could be much better reproduced. Because I think 
that's quite an impressive book. There are lots of things I could 
add to it. 

Teiser: Were many of the photographs taken before, or were they done for 
this purpose? 

Adams: Well, they couldn't be done after the book was published! They all 
had to be done before. But for ten years we thought about it. As 
I say, the text was public after her death. And the heirs have 
no right to it. In fact, if there were any heirs you should 
ethically advise them you were going to do it, but there aren't 
any. That's an ethical point. Say that Ella Young had done a book 
of poems , and I wanted to take the poems and make photographs for 
them, I wouldn't have to pay anybody anything. But still, you would 


Adams: feel, ethically, that perhaps her heirs would have some rights, so 
you'd make a token payment. You'd put something in there for them. 
But you can't do it in royalty. That's a personal decision. It 
does not have to be done. 

Teiser: The work on The Land of Little Rain, then, was done over a period 
of years your photographs? 

Adams: Oh yes. Many photographs over a long time. And I've done things 
since then of the same areas. 

More Southwest Friends and Experiences 

Teiser: You met John Marin in 1929, according to Mrs. Newhall. 
Adams: That's right. At Mabel's. 
Teiser: Had you known his work before? 

Adams: Oh, very slightly. He was a funny little man. He was very shy, 

mouse-like. And I met him first in a bare room; he was laying out 
paintings, and they were absolutely beautiful. It was obvious he 
didn't want to talk. And then you've read Nancy's thing about the 
piano [in The Eloquent Light]. Well, after that we got along fine. 
But I know that Marin would go out and would sit around for two or 
three weeks never doing anything, just looking around at the 
country and then suddenly distilling it, and in one morning doing 
ten, fifteen, or more watercolors using brush, fingers, thumb, 
everything just pouring these things out. I think he's one of 
the greatest artists we've ever had. 

[Interruption discussion of details of coming exhibit at 
Metropolitan Museum] 

Adams: Let me see, there are some things in New Mexico Well, much later 
I did a series of pictures for the Boy Scout Camp at Cimarron. 
That was left by a very wealthy man, who was a parody of rightist 
virtue. But it was a very moving thing, and a very distressing 
thing, in a way, to see busloads come in from all over the country, 
disgorging these kids who'd never been anywhere with any mountains. 
Cimarron 's is a low place in the Sangre de Cristos, east of the 

They would set up their pup tents, and they'd have to go 
through all the Boy Scout rituals. And then they'd be taken out 
on trips. Unfortunately it's a rather uninteresting area it's 
rather arid. There's only one peak that looks like a peak. The 


Adams: rest of it's great Colorado-type slopes. I stayed there for three 
weeks. I liked the story, but it was awfully difficult, because 
the environment was so dry and barren. 

Get a bunch of kids from Alabama and Rhode Island and dump 
them out in the wilderness and see what happens. It rains, 
thunders oh, it was terrifically stormy, you know; the worst hail 
storm I've ever seen was in Cimarron. I have one gorgeous photo 
graph of a thunderstorm and clearing clouds, and the wind was so 
strong that I had to hold the eight by ten camera down. The 
photograph isn't sharp for that reason, because it's vibrating. 
But we had hailstones right at the Kit Carson museum as big as 
golf balls. And this terrible roar begins, and I'm in this place, 
and I knew the car was closed up, and I said, "Well, here goes the 
old Cadillac!" That radiator hood will go right to the moon. 
Everything bounced off the car; there wasn't a single dent, but 
it killed crops. It did a lot of crop damage. When you see hail 
stones that big, you get a bit concerned. 

Teiser: Were you photographing the kids too? 
Adams: The kids, the camp, and the landscape. 
Teiser: What was the end result of that? 

Adams: It came out in the Boy Scout magazine big article. Strictly a 
professional job, and a very difficult subject to photograph. 

In the early days, Frank Applegate and I would tour all 
around. We went south of Albuquerque and way up into the Chama 
Valley, and visited lots of places. And with my ferocious lack of 
documentation ability, I just don't have any real record of it. 
Saw a major part of northern New Mexico, and many moradas that no 
longer exist. 

The roads were unbelievable. At that time, the major 
population of the villages north of Santa Fe was Spanish-American; 
there was little English spoken. And the Spanish is a very 
interesting Spanish, I've been told. It's a bastardized 
conquistadore Spanish of four hundred years ago. They've had 
scholars from all over come and try to study this particular 
Spanish dialect that's used. And there were people at Chimayo 
that had been to Espanola, twenty miles away, but had never been 
to Santa Fe, thirty or forty miles away, in their whole lives. 

I visited the Los Alamos school when it was a school, and it 
was just like a camp in the high mountains with log cabins big 
log cabin buildings. I can't remember the design. But it was a 
very remote place a rather special place for kids. This was 
called the Los Alamos Ranch School, I think that was the name. 


Teiser: The Los Alamos School was that originally an Indian school? 
Adams: No, it was a boy's school. 
Teiser: Private boys' school? 

Adams: When the Manhattan Project came into being, they bought this 

whole thing out; of course, during the War I think the school had 
closed down. Well, what they did was to draw employees from all 
over the area, and the brighter young people from these villages 
would go up there and work. And that disrupted the village life 
everywhere. It created a different economic picture. 

And now the villages are in, I would say, a rather horrible 
state. Lots of delinquency, vandalism, nothing really going on, 
nothing made, you know. Chimayo is the top place. They have 
Chimayo blankets and the Santuario. 

It's important to say that it's Spanish-American and not 
Mexican, you see. 

V. Adams: They have Anglos and Spanish-Americans in the Southwest. 

Adams: And for many, many years it still is, I think the government 

documents in the legislature were bilingual. But as I say, there 
were many times when Applegate and I would go out to the remote 
places and there wasn't one person around with whom we could talk 
English. There are a few of the older people remaining. 

V. Adams: Santuario was, I thought, emotionally very nice when we went this 

Adams: Yes, it was good. 

V. Adams: There were people who went in with their little children into that 
inner sanctuary. 

Teiser: Where is that? 

V. Adams: Santuario is a place north of Santa Fe. 

Adams: It's called the Santuario de Chimayo. Chimayo is a town. 

V. Adams: But the chapel has an inner place, a little deep hole with mud that 
they feel is healing. 

Adams: The hole didn't seem much bigger forty years ago I don't know what 
they do. [Laughs] 


V. Adans: But here are these people these Spanish-Americans coming there 

from all over the Southwest and taking their children in; they all 
brought back little bits of mud. They'd have a paper bag or 
something, I noticed, when they went out, to take the mud home in. 

Adams: I remember, the last time I was there, I happened to come on a 
very old Spanish-American lady, and she hobbled in and then she 
touched all of these things on the railing, and altar, and gave 
her Hail Marys in Spanish. And boy, she had a lot of stamina! 
She went through that whole building and out the back. That was 
her last visit this was the feeling of finality. She came from 
a hundred miles south. 

V. Adams: Saying goodbye to all these things known in her youth. 

Adams: Yes. Most of these people were very provincial, and as I said, 

many of those people in Chimayo had never been as far away as Santa 

V. Adams: Of course, but that changed after they had the buses to go over 
to Los Alamos . 

Adams: Then, of course, the whole thing blew up and changed. But there's 
still Trampas 

V. Adams: They still have faith in these places, and that's what was very 

exciting to us. Beaumont [Newhall] said, too, it was very touching 
to him. 

Teiser: Has it changed greatly physically the country and the buildings? 
V. Adams: Fewer old wrecks and more tin roofs. 

Adams: Very little; I was amazed. I think it's still quite a remarkable 

V. Adams: It's beautiful country. 

Adams: Canyon Road and Camino del Monte Sol are still pretty much like 
they were forty years ago. 

V. Adams: It's like here in Carmel. We want to keep the artichoke fields. 

In Santa Fe they want to keep the old things. They do pretty well. 

Adams: Albuquerque is a mess, in a way. 
V. Adams: Well, that's a big city now. 

Adams: But where my friends the Newhalls live La Luz it's stunning; a 
fine architectural development. 


V. Adams: Modern adaptation of Pueblo style. 

Adams: Oh, it's beautiful design like nothing I know of, actually. You 
can go up to Santa Fe in less than an hour. Parts of Santa Fe are 
commercial, but still there are these old beautiful things to be 

Teiser: The quality of the light there is it special still, or was it ever? 

Adams: All of this "quality of light" business is an illusion in a sense. 
Santa Fe is at seven thousand feet. So you have a different 
intensity relationship between sunlight and shadow because the 
sky is a deeper blue, because it's that high elevation. And the 
reflection of the ground is different. It's a little lighter than 
in most areas in the country, I think. Now apparently the quality 
of the light in Greece is due to the fact that there's water vapor 
in the air and there's a fairly soft light, and there's a lot of 
white. So you get reflections and general illuminations. It's a 
very intangible thing. 

San Francisco has a special light too. When we test Polaroid 
film, we get totally different results than we do in Cambridge. 

Teiser: Even though all measurements are the same? 

Adams: The measurements are not the same, that's it. If you design a 

film for a camera for somebody to make a snapshot, and you design 
it for Cambridge and Boston, for many days of the year you're 
going to have a different quality than if you design it for San 
Francisco or Santa Fe. 

Teiser: What do you do then? 

Adams: Well, this is one of the great problems. I mean, you get more 

contrast. Out here, we always have of course, today's a fog day 
I mean this is a gray day, but this is a purer gray than you get in 
Boston or Cambridge, because there would be smog mixed with it 
there. You'd get a little yellower light there. This is very 
neutral light now. So, it's a matter well, if you want to be 
technical about it, it's a matter of Kelvin degrees color 
temperature. As you go into higher altitudes, you get a higher 
and higher Kelvin. The sun is a little brighter, the sky is a 
little bluer, and the shadows, of course, are much bluer, because 
they reflect from the deeper blue sky. 

Then you get to a water vapor atmosphere, like the tropics or 
Florida or the east coast, and you have a lower Kelvin, and you 
have a little warmer shadows a softer luminance range. There's 
nothing mystic about it. 


Adams: But Santa Fe gives you the feeling of being on top of the world. 

It's at seven thousand feet, like Mexico City. Albuquerque's five 
thousand feet. So there is a fundamental difference. There's less 
atmosphere I think one- third less for the sunlight to go through. 
You're getting about one-third the oxygen, maybe a little less. 

That's why some people have trouble. The ballet came, you 
know, to Santa Fe for a performance. The previous performance they 
gave was, I think, in Dallas, and then they were flown to Albuquerque 
and came up to Santa Fe and, without acclimatization, gave their 
performance. They just collapsed, were actually falling down on 
stage. Here they were going to the extreme of physical effort 
which was all right under normal conditions, but at seven thousand 
feet they couldn't do it. 

And Stravinsky, when I saw him and heard him conduct his 
Persephone at Santa Fe, was really- exhausted. But they warned him; 
he'd been there about a week trying to get acclimated. 

I get acclimated very quickly. I've been so used to altitudes. 
You know, twelve thousand, ten, Yosemite, sea level, back and forth. 
It took me a little longer this time in Albuquerque a couple of 
days. I can "pick up" very quickly. But a lot of people have an 
awful time at high altitudes. 

Teiser: Is there smog there now that you didn't see before? 

Adams: Yes, there is. There's natural smog in Albuquerque, because that's 
a rather big city. But the worst thing comes from the Four Corners 
power plant. They're coal stripping. They've got one plant; 
they're going to have five. And the one already puts pollution 
out which is seen in the Rio Grande Valley all the way to 
Albuquerque. And Durango, and the Colorado 

V. Adams: That's why they fight strip mining. 

Adams: It's a terrible thing. In fact well, it's not that strip mining 
isn't bad enough, but it's the fact that they've absolutely spent 
no money in smog control. They say they have, but when you see the 
smog coming down, for the first time, to Taos, Santa Fe, and 
Albuquerque, you know that there's trouble. There are going to be 
five plants. It will be the largest single power producing area, 
but I don't know what they're going to do when they run out of coal. 
They've drilled deep and gotten the beautiful spring water, which is 
the clearest water in the country, which it is assumed feeds the 
Hopi Springs, and they're using that to sluice the coal. 

So the whole Southwest may be degenerating to a point where it 
really will be lost to us forever. 


V. Adams: 

V. Adams: 

Better enjoy it while you can. 

Teiser : 

V. Adams: 
Adams : 

Yes. An unhappy desert, 
there's so many people, 

It's very serious. But that's because 
But who wants genocide? I'd rather have 

Well, can you think of anything else for Santa Fe? Did you tell 
them the story of when you got tight, and what Mary Austin said? 

Oh yes. There was a big party at Witter Bynner's one night, and 
I drove Mary Austin over. And then I got to saying, because I had 
some consciousness left, "Well, who's going to get Mary Austin 
home? I can't drive." I was very concerned that somebody get 
Mary Austin home. 

The next morning I said, "Well, Mary, I guess I lost my 
reputation last night." And she said, "You certainly did. But 
you lost it so quickly that nobody missed it." [Laughter] 

I think I read in Mrs. Newhall's book that Ella Young was 
encouraging you to continue writing poetry. 

Which he did. 

Oh yes, she did. Because I wrote very romantic poetry, and then 
suddenly burst out into very avant-garde poetry, and then quit. 
But I studied a great deal of literature and I was pretty good on 
the sonnet. 

Teiser: You write good prose too. 

Adams: Well, I never should be known as a poet. 

Teiser: Did Ella Young succeed in encouraging you? Did you write more 
poetry as a result of her encouragement? 

Adams: No. She said I looked like Yeats, and she thought I could write 
like Yeats not to look like him, but write at a certain level. 
But that was not something which was accepted. Well, if I didn't 
have music and photography, who knows? I might have done a 
cookbook. [Laughter] 

I remember one time coming back from a party at Witter Bynner's 
very late, and it was quite a party. In the morning I go out and I 
find a flat tire, and I open the trunk of the little Marmon we had, 
and here is one of Bynner's guests all curled up fast asleep. Of 
course, somebody 'd put him in there when he was very tight, and why 
he didn't suffocate I don't know. It was a horrifying experience 
to see this body in this trunk! [Laughter] I pulled him out, and he 
was breathing, and he said, "Where am I?" I said, "Well " 


V. Adams: Horrible! 

Adams: Yes. That was really quite a story. 

Teiser: Maynard Dixon spent some time in the Southwest. That was not at 
the same time? 

V. Adams: He was in Tucson. I don't know that he was in Santa Fe, particularly. 

Adams: Tucson is another story. 

Teiser: When were you there? 

V. Adams: We visited Maynard and Edie. 

Adams: Maynard and Edie [Edith Hamlin] Dixon. 

Teiser: That was later. 

Adams: I did some work for Kodak in Phoenix, and then went to Tucson for 
the Guggenheim project to do the Saguaro National Monument, you 
know the cactus forest. And then our very dear friends Maynard 
and Edie Dixon were there. 

Now Edie is one who can tell you a lot Mrs. Maynard Dixon. 
Edith Hamlin now. And she could tell you a lot about me because 
we're old, old friends. 

Oh boy. Can't think of anything else. 

Harroun: Did you know Georgia O'Keeffe before? Or did you meet her down 

Adams: I met her down there. And then of course we got to know her really 
well in New York after 1933. 

V. Adams: Stieglitz, you know, gave Ansel an exhibit in his rooms [An American 
Place] there. He'd practically given up doing anything with anybody 
new. But that would be a long story. 

Adams: The New York story's another story entirely. 
[End Tape 8, Side 1] 

[Interview VII 27 May 1972] 
[Begin Tape 8, Side 2] 

Teiser: We were speaking of the Santa Fe period. You mentioned several 

times A.R. Orage, who seems to have been a most fascinating person, 
and I know very little about him. 


Adams: Well, I didn't know too much about him. I met him in San 

Francisco. He had been in New Mexico. He was a disciple of 

Teiser: I didn't even realize he'd been in America very much. Did he live 
here in the later years of his life? 

Adams: For awhile he was here, yes. I really can't tell you any more than 
that. Some mystically-minded people are very much surprised. They 
say, "You know Orage!" Orage was a guru, I guess, to many people. 

Teiser: Yes. 

Adams: He was also a provocative discussionist, if you want to use the 

Teiser: What did he look like? 

Adams: He looked like a British orchestra conductor. [Laughs] He was 
smooth shaven. I can't exactly remember just what he did look 
like. He was rather intense. He had a very literary air about 
him, but he also had a self-assured manner. 

Teiser: He was apparently rather well known for having edited a literary 
review in London. 

Adams: Yes. 

Teiser: Was he interested in photography, or all the arts? 

Adams: I guess just in general. I can't remember. I did a picture of him; 
not a very good one. 

Teiser: Did he live in San Francisco for a time, or did he just come and go? 

Adams: I think he visited a month maybe; came to the University at Berkeley 
and Stanford, visiting and lecturing. It's hard to remember the 

Let's see, about Santa Fe, I've been back quite often, and last 
time, I had a good visit with Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, and 
appeared with Beaumont's group at the University, and then gave a 
talk at the Art Museum in Santa Fe; and of course I'm a great friend 
of Laura Gilpin's, the photographer. 

Teiser: Is she still photographing? 

Adams: Oh yes, she just got a grant to do a book on the Navajos in the 

Canyon de Chelly. She's eighty-three, and still gets around with 
a cane and a little arthritis. Perhaps you saw that wonderful 


Adams: picture of both of us when we met at the museum by a news 

photographer giving each other a smack, and we were laughing. 
It came out on the front page of the Herald , the Albuquerque 

Teiser: Was the Taos book the success of it a factor in your decision to 
make photography your profession then? 

Adams: I think it was. But of course I changed my style; but it did have 
success. And Stieglitz was very much impressed with it. It was 
one of these things that sort of proved quality. You see, one of 
my objectives is to maintain a very high image quality, both in the 
originals and in reproduction. So I have been quite influential in 
getting the reproduction of fine prints paid more attention to. 

The Reproduction of Photographs 

Adams: We did develop, I think, some of the finest reproductions in the 
world in San Francisco with the Walter [J.] Mann Company. Mr. 
[Raymond] Peterson was the engraver. And that was for the letter 
press process. 

Now you have several processes: intaglio and raised dot, and 
there's callotype and gravure. But the half-tone process means 
that the image is broken down into dots of so many per inch usually 
lined up at 90 but not necessarily. And in letterpress these dots 
stand up like little mushrooms; they are like type. 

Teiser: Your interest in printing is a subject that we've got notes on. 
I came across an article by Francis Farquhar in Touring Tropics, 
February 1931, in which you had a lot of photographs a whole 
section of photographs in sepia on brownish paper. Do you remember 

Adams: Yes. That's probably rotogravure. 

Teiser: Yes. The article was "Mountain Studies in the Sierra." In the 
introduction Mr. Farquhar said, "From the beginning of his 
professional career, he has closely associated photography with the 
other graphic arts, especially printing. In selecting the process 
for an individual picture, he keeps in mind not only the quality 
of the negative and the photographic print, but also the relation 
ship of the picture to its ultimate surroundings. It is this 
comprehension of kindred arts that has made Ansel Adams so success 
ful an illustrator." 

You had then long had an interest in printing? 


Adams: Oh yes. Through Albert Bender I knew many of the printers. I had 
tried various reproduction processes and made some study of it. At 
that time, the so-called offset was a very bad process of very poor 
quality. The letterpress was the finest. Of course, you could get 
gravure, but gravure is very tricky. It is an intaglio process. 
It was expensive and it wasn't really too accurate. 

This is the American Earth and Cedric Wright's book, for 
instance, were done with that process, and it's really not too good. 

Teiser: Was that sheet-fed gravure done by Charles Wood? 

Adams: Yes. Well, no, Charles Wood was much better than that. This was 
the Photogravure and Color Corporation of New York. Charles Wood 
was very good, but I think he realized that there were problems, 
because the scale of gravure certain tones had a tendency to "jump" 
around the middle values; they'd go higher or lower in tone. And 
the whites had a tendency to block. 

Now, Stieglitz's gravures that appeared in Camera Work were 
hand-done, and each one was put through the press and watched and 
made like a fine print. It must have been a very costly process. 

Teiser: I remember the Grabhorns used to use Meriden Gravure. 

Adams: Yes. Well, that was one of the worst going for any continuous-tone 
image. They could use it for etching or a litho or woodblock, and 
they were really beautiful. But when it came to the continuous 
tone of the photograph, it was just awful. The reproduction looked 
like putty; it couldn't hold photographic values at all. 

Teiser: You're speaking of Meriden? 

Adams: Meriden. Grabhorn did a lot of reproductions that weren't from 

photographs. He really didn't like photographs.* Whenever he made 
a reproduction of a photograph it was terrible, because he always 
did it with some kind of a soft process on rag paper. A photograph 
needs a smooth surface. But the etching and the lithography, etc., 
Meriden would do beautifully I 

*See interview with Edwin Grabhorn, Recollections of the Grabhorn 
Press, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, 
University of California, 1968, pp. 59-60, and interview with 
Robert Grabhorn, Fine Printing and the Grabhorn Press, Regional 
Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, 
1968, pp. 54-58. 


Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 


Adams : 

Then of course, as I say, the letterpress, the three-color letter 
press, is the great Bruehl-Bruges process you see in the old 
Vanity Fair magazine that was really four-color where the red 
plate is used as black plate as well and strengthens the image. 
If you look at a color picture with a microscope, you see that the 
colors rotate at certain angles. It looks like a mosaic. Those 
of course were of the raised dot. But you get down to a minimum 
dot size, beyond which it's just collapsible and it won't stand up 
in the press. I think people don't realize that all the dots have 
the same density of value. It's only the area of the dots in 
relation to the white space that gives the fractional tones. 

What's the highest screen you have used? 

Well, the one that gave us the best results of all was the 133-line 
screen. Now that didn't give as much definition, if you look very 
closely. It's only 1/133 of an inch; one hundred thirty-three 
lines to an inch. The deep tones wouldn't block up. And if you 
stop to think about what happens, if you have no dots you have pure 
white paper, then if you suddenly jump to a dot you get a "contour 
line." What is called "highlighting in the forehead" as sometimes 
you see it shows abruptly no tone to tone. 

Then when you get into the two-plate offset, then you have a 
very much finer progression of values. 

It's two blacks? 

It's two "blacks." And it's called duotone because at one time 
people used color in one of the plates, and an awful color could 
result. But if it's two plates two blacks one black ink may be 
slightly warm or cold in tone. And then they can make exposures 
of "long range" and "short range" and the two plates together will 
hold a greater range. And that's the system used now. The letter 
press is practically a lost art. 

Walter Mann, whom we interviewed* and have known for many years, of 
course took great pride in having done work on your photographs. 

Oh, he did a beautiful job on the plates. 

Everyone has said you had your own specifications, 
are very careful, aren't you? 

I imagine you 

*See interview with Walter J. Mann, Photoengraving, 1910-1969, 
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of 
California, 1974. 


Adams: Well, I tried! There's two ways: you try to make the print which 
will fit the process, because the negative that the engraver makes 
has to be through a screen. He gets his negative in screen form. 
In other words, if you look at it in a magnifying glass you see 
the dots of varying size. And that gives a certain limitation in 
his exposure scale. It goes to a maximum of 1.4, 1.5 on the scale. 
My prints go up to 2.0+ on the log scale: more than a hundred to 
one arithmetically. If I want to make a print for an engraver, he 
tells me, "I want the print value to be 1.4 and I can handle it." 
He can intensify the blacks. He can increase the contrast. But if 
the print range goes beyond the range of his film, he cannot hold 
the textures in high and low values. The whites go bleak, block 
out, or the blacks block up, or both! 

Teiser: When your prints were being reproduced by letterpress, did you 
always see the proofs? 

Adams: Oh yes. I'd try to make the prints the way they'd want them. 
Then they'd pull a proof. The letterpress engravers had the 
advantage of being able to selectively "etch" the high values. 
And we would work for sort of gray-whites to get all the values 
therein, and then "etch" them; it raises them up to the optimum 

Teiser: That was where Peterson came in? 

Adams: Yes. He was wonderful in that; a very sensitive craftsman! 

There's a very amusing story when we were doing the Edward 
Weston book, My Camera on Point Lobos. Body [Warren], Edward's 
assistant, was watching everything with a hawk eye. She went down 
to the plant one day, and there was this rather interesting picture 
it was just sand and rock. And she said, "Well, Mr. Peterson, I 
don't think you got this one! It's really flat. It's original 
sparkle is gone. I think we'll have to do that again." And he 
said, "Well, Dody, you're looking at the original print." [Laughter] 
He actually improved it. He made this image come to life. The 
original print was a little soft; Edward made it that way. She 
thought that was the engraving, and that didn't remind her of the 
print. But here was the reproduction, which was beautiful in tone. 
That's really one of the memorable moments! 

Teiser: Well, do you make a different print for reproduction than you do 
for exhibit? 

Adams: Oh yes. You have to. In fact, when the prints are in the solution 
they always look brighter and lighter than when they're dry. And 
papers don't all behave the same, so you have to learn how to use 
them. Then you have to say, "This is going to be reproduced and 


Adams: I've got to keep it within the scale." That's why I have a 

reflection densitometer. I can check to see that I haven't over 
printed. Underprinting I don't worry about too much. I'll show 
you something very interesting [Walks away and voice trails off. 
Returns.] These are proofs of a monograph that Morgan & Morgan are 
doing.* These are good proofs. These are to be printed in New 
York. The one of the tombstone is fantastic. This portrait is a 
little too dark, see. Now we'll tell them they made that too dark. 
They have to make another plate. The face is too dark, the shirt 
is perfect. My print is all right in this case. 

This one is one of the most extraordinary reproductions I've 
ever seen. They kept the pure white and all the details on blacks. 
But that was a soft print. This was a flat print which they 
expanded. And they did beautifully on these, except this one was a 
flat print, and they overdid the expansionl 

Teiser: Is that the Golden Gate one you were speaking of yesterday? 

Adams: Yes. This one before the bridge. But you see, this is good; this 
is excellent, beautiful. This is a beautiful thing. 

But here's where I told the engraver to expand the contrasts, 
but he overdid it a little. They'll have to learn so do l! I'll 
have to give them prints that are a little stronger. Psychologically, 
this is a warm tone, and here's a cold tone, and you see it's just 
terrible; loses all life, distance; but from the same plate! 

We're not going to make it quite as brown as that. To show 
what I mean, this is just as clear, but it has no life. Now, for 
instance, just look at the aspens 

Teiser: My word! 

Adams: So, the psychological effect of color, well that's the thing you have 
to know about. Talk to them. With engravers and most printers, it's 
the same general thing. It's a terrible thing, to have someone who 
doesn't know anything about quality come in and make remarks! If 
you can give them a constructive pattern, all may be well. 

Teiser: Did you do that when Lawton Kennedy was printing your work? 

Adams: Oh yes, we'd watch everything. Crocker was very good that way. 

They really printed very carefully, and they watched the press runs. 

*De Cock, Liliane, ed. Ansel Adams. New York: Morgan & Morgan, 1972. 


Adams: It would come off the press rather fast, and the printer was 
anxious to get it right. You see, in letterpress many things 
affect the result. The "makeready" has to be changed, and the ink 
may change. With offset, once it's set up, it goes through very 
fast; so you sit there, and they put a sheet in, and they run many 
sheets and then you study the inking, and once they've got it, 
there's nothing else you can do. And if that plate isn't what it 
ought to be, it's pulled off and made over. 

Now, gravure is on a copper plate. And in the American Earth 
book, there were "four up," four pages on a side of a sheet. And 
if you changed one letter of that, it cost seven hundred dollars 
because you had to change the whole plate. But with letterpress, 
you'd just lift out the plate, or the line of type; the corrections 
were simple. 

I had contact with Albert Bender and all the printers and the 
Roxburghe Club, and many reproducing processes. So from the very 
beginning that's been very important to me and my work. 

Teiser: On the University of California book, Fiat Lux, wasn't that 

originally to be done by sheet-fed gravure by Charles R. Wood? 

Adams: That was originally planned, and it was done by Wood, for 

Doubleday. You see, the University Press couldn't print it. It 
was planned to have 286 pages, but Reagan got in as governor and 
there was too much economy imposed, and everybody at the University 
was scared to print it, so they turned it over to a publisher. And 
in order to make it commercially feasible at the publishing level, 
they had to reduce it to 196 pages. 

Teiser: But the printing was still done by Wood? 

Adams: The printing was still done by Wood. I'm sure of it. 

Teiser: And by gravure? 

Adams: Yes, and some of it's very good. 

[Guests enter; interruption. Returns with book.] 

Adams: Colophon says it was printed by the Cardinal Company, under the 
supervision of Charles Wood. Designed by Nancy Newhall and 
Adrian Wilson. But here is a case of approximate quality. You 
see how granular that appears? That's really a very smooth 
photographic image. It is pretty good in the whites, but certain 
tones are not right see those shadows. This variation in tone 
wasn't that extreme in the original. It "jumps" in stages. 


Does that do violence to your original? 


Adams: Yes, it does, very much. There's nothing much I can do about it. 
But something like this, just black and white, is just beautiful. 

Teiser: What is it that's in the University Archives prints or ? 

Adams: Proofs. I have all the negatives. And they have a set of prints. 
They own the negatives, but I keep control of them, because they 
want prints all the time. I've got to turn them over to them 
some day. But as long as I'm around I'd like to make my own 

Teiser: That's a wonderful book, I think. 

Adams: It could have been better, but it's not our fault. The University 
really tried. 

Teiser: I suppose books are often compromises unless you publish them 

Adams: Oh yes. Going up in price, terribly expensive, mechanical 

problems, paper problems, labor problems. We did so many things, 
went through so many trials. That's why I have a very skeptical 
point of view about the convention that things are better in 
Europe. They have good craftsmen, but they can go just as haywire 
as anybody if they're not under supervision. The best printing 
I've ever seen has been right in San Francisco. In Japan and 
Europe it's cheaper, except that you have to go there to supervise 
it, and you lose copyright privilege there's all kinds of tangles 
in the thing. 

Teiser: Working with George Waters, as you do now, with duotone, do they 

do the same kind of correction of plates that the engraver can do? 

Adams: Well, they can't, no. That's two-plate litho. So he's got to do 
it in his negative. In other words, I've got to give him the 
right print. We can't monkey with the plate as much as the 
letterpress men did. It's very complicated. Waters is doing 
beautiful work. 

Teiser: Adrian Wilson said that they often do quite a lot of correction. 
He said once they took an automobile out of a picture 

Adams: Oh, that's correction in the photograph. I have several photographs 
that are very badly damaged. I couldn't sell a print that showed 
marks and defects. Walter Mann Company has a very fine retoucher 
an "airbrush" man. He can correct my print. He takes out these 
defects. You can't see them. You don't have any sense that 
there's any retouching at all. There's nothing worse than re 
touching that shows. 



Adams: We correct defects and spots. And it would be perfectly 

possible to take out an automobile. You can do that. They have 
to commercially sometimes. But if I have a fine photograph, 
. I'm not going to take out something important but I might take out 
a defect. Although, frankly, if I had a beautiful image and there 
was a beer can in it, I'd spot that out if it had no relevance to 
the picture. 

And then there's all kinds of thousands of little things that 
happen in photographs when they are this small; they look like 
spots; then you take them out. When you enlarge the image, they 
may become part of the structure and should not be touched. 

Viewing Photographs 

Adams: There is the famous matter of Lincoln's mole. Lincoln had a mole 
on his face, and in little pictures, the mole looked like a spot. 
When they made a nice 11 by 14, it looked like a mole. Now the 
ethics are you don't take the mole out as such; you take it out 
only if it is not readable just a distraction. The eye picks up 
tiny little things all out of proportion to the size of the image. 

Teiser: This brings up the viewing distance and how things are supposed 
to be looked at. 

Adams: Well, that's pretty complicated. The standard reading distance 

is fourteen or fifteen inches from the eye, and what is called the 
circle of confusion or the disk of confusion is the largest disk 
that appears as a point at that distance. When that's about 1/200 
of an inch in diameter it's accepted as sharp. Some people say 
1/100 of an inch, and it has something to do with the reading 
distance. But there comes a point when normal eyes cannot see a 
disk other than as a point. Then the image is "sharp." That's a 
very great simplification because that doesn't always hold. And 
there are several things that are always expressed as basic 
principles but for some reason or other are very flexible. 

I'll never forget in San Francisco, I had a 16 by 20 print 
of a picture taken near Aspen. And it wasn't really sharp. It 
was all right in 8 by 10, but it did not look right in a 16 by 20. 
But a friend, Dr. Overhage, sitting at the far end of the room 
almost as far as that lamp looked at this picture and said, "Why 
doesn't that one seem sharp?" 

Teiser: That's about how far? 


Adams: Twenty or thirty feet. Now, there's no way to define a degree of 
sharpness it mathematically approached the disk of confusion 
limit. Here, the illusion of sharpness brings in the term 
"acuteness." And scientifically that is the micro-density 
relationship that is, the sharp difference of one tone to another. 
The curve appears as an abrupt "cliff" from black to white. Now 
with a picture that's out of focus or not sharp, there's no direct 
transition. You take the curve from black to white, that would be 
only 45 or more. Now you take a really sharp photograph and the 
curve is very abrupt. The eye in scanning it senses this thing. 
It doesn't necessarily see a disk and a point; it senses the very 
sudden difference in value. It's like an electronic scanner on an 
airplane at great altitudes that is used for photographic purposes. 

The difference is there. I was making an enlargement the 
other day, and I can stand six feet away, and I can "judge" that 
focus. I don't try to think about it. I just scan the thing and 
judge. And then I go over it with my magnifier and I'm usually 
right. If I try to think, try to look at it and get down to see, 
"Now do I think this is the grain or it isn't?" it's not so accurate. 
This is a very interesting psychological factor. 

Then the other thing is that the ideal perspective say I 
take an eight by ten picture with a twelve inch lens and make a 
print, I get the perfect perspective effect if I look at it from 
twelve inches away. If I enlarge it to twenty inches in length, 
I can be twenty-four inches away. Well, I have a picture taken 
with my 23 1/2-inch lens of the "New Mexico Moonrise" enlarged five 
times that's enlarged to fifty inches my heavens, that should be 
in correct perspective at one hundred inches, roughly. But I can 
walk right up to it, within reading distance, and marvelous things 
happen; the whole thing opens up. The psychological effect you see 
is not just a physical optical one. 

Teiser: When people read books the size of Fiat Lux*, do they hold them at 
arms' length, do you think, or do they hold them at regular reading 

Adams: I think regular reading distance. They hold them in their lap. 
You see people pull a picture away sometimes, but that's to suit 
the individual eye. 

Teiser: Last Sunday, you were showing the students from Foothill College 
a very large print of a bull 

*The page size is approximately 10" by 13 1/2". 


Adams : 



Adams : 


Well, wasn't that supposed to be a poster? 
be way up on a wall somewhere? 

Wasn't that supposed to 

Well, it was used as such, and Europeans use a lot of stuff in 
posters, and they make big prints, and they're hung on walls in 
galleries. They have what are called "carrying power" when they're 
that big. A subtle little print like one of the Polaroids would be 
lost in a gallery of that kind. 

But they don't care much for either print quality or spotting 
it's very strange. The Europeans have a very poor concept of what 
we call print quality. They achieve things that are very theatrical 
in a very intense way a very human way I'm speaking of the good 
ones now, not the picturesque postcard shooting. But what we call 
print quality is like a beautiful piano and beautiful playing. 
They get the image and the meaning of the image, and primarily 
through reproduction because people in Europe don't buy prints. 
There are very few prints bought in Europe; very few fine prints 
around. You see European people come with a portfolio mostly of 
loose, unmounted prints. They get dog-eared and cracked, and it 
doesn't make any difference to them. 

If that big picture of Half-Dome had a crack in the paper, I 
couldn't use it. I threw away four of those before I got one that 
was right. That's our standard! It's just like if I were a 
pianist I wouldn't let a record out with a false note. I might 
make some mistake, but if it's obviously a booboo then I would 
retape it. I don't know whether that's a logical comparison. What 
is quality? A great many photographers think that my work is a 
particular school of photography very precious, where you overdo 
the print quality; that that isn't really necessary; that the only 
thing that counts is the image. Then you counter by saying that 
the image isn't excitingly presented. It just doesn't get over, 
it's not an appropriate or compelling print. 

That bull picture is probably an appropriate print for the 
way the man saw it. I can't imagine making a so-called fine print 
of it because the image itself isn't a fine image. It's grainy and 
harsh. I don't know what you could do with it. 

Well, if you kept it down to a little tiny size, you wouldn't 
notice it so much. 

The photographer gave me that, and I should mount it, because it'll 
get ruined. And as I say, it would be very good at a distance. 
But now my big prints are made for another purpose. They're big 
prints for their own sake, and you're supposed to be able to go up 
close to them. But you can't do that with most blowups. 


Teiser: I think you were saying that the prints for The Family of Man were 

Adams: Oh, they were mostly terrible. That exhibit was a great blow to 
photography. They were just casually made. The pictures were 
selected for some theme, and the images themselves were mostly 
disgracefully bad, and the prints commercially done no sympathy, 
no feeling for it at all. They were terrible. From our standards, 
they were just "commercial." The exhibit put photography back 
twenty years! 

Now, there are several things that happened to augment this 
thing. The average blowup is terrible. The whole thing is con 
ceptual, a big idea may need big prints. You should really 
photograph it see something that you visualize as a large print. 
Well, when you do that, you must have a certain optical precision. 
If it's a poor negative, it just won't project. But sometimes, you 
have tonal qualities that you can get by with an image that isn't 
too sharp. But so much depends on the enlarging light. 

There's quite a display up in Yosemite in the Mountain Room of 
rock climbing pictures. It really is quite an achievement. They're 
huge, and I know they're done with a four by five camera. They're 
much better than any I've ever seen. They're relatively soft. The 
definition is absolutely superb. 

Well, I can go on forever on these things. 

Light Sources and Light Measurement 

Teiser: There's point source light, and then there's ? 

Adams: There's condenser light varying phases of condenser illumination. 
Point source uses a condenser; "point source" means a light of very 
small area. The average condenser uses a frosted globe, so it 
gives you a little more scattered light, but it still is primarily 
columnated. And diffuse light is just light that comes from a 
diffusing area. 

Teiser: You were asking the students the other day if they used condenser 

Adams: You can usually tell, because you get blocked whites, high values. 
It's a matter of a pencil of light striking a small area of the 
negative and scattering. A certain percentage of this gets to the 
print and the rest is scattered beyond the picture area. And the 


Adams: result is that the image of that particular high density is 
proportionately less than the actual diffuse density of the 
negative in that area. If you have enough shadows to hold low 
values, it doesn't make too much difference. 

When you get a diffuse light, every section of that negative 
has myriads of pencils of light striking it; it scatters the light 
but it maintains its diffuse-density scale. In other words, if 
the negative scale is one to 1.7, then the image scale would be 
about 1.7 on the enlarger easel. The print could be soft. If you 
hold that scale, it would be soft. It could also be very rich in 
development and toning and still hold the scale, but the actual 
depth of tone would be greater. So we get up to an image scale of 
log 2.3, which is one to 200 arithmetically. You see, the densities 
are measured in log-to-the-base ten numbers. Some people are very 
confused by it. I just sent a memo to Polaroid. There's some 
people there that are a little mixed up. They've set their 
reflection densitometer to zero (0.0) for the white paper; it is 
really about 0.08. For several years, because of this setting, 
they don't get the same measurements I do from prints. I've got a 
well-calibrated Macbeth densitometer. They say, "We'll take your 
density and subtract this." Well, that's all right, but when you 
think of the arithmetic equivalent, when you subtract logs, you 
divide, so you're getting a variation of one value to another, 
which can be a very perplexing thing, you see. 

Well, the best explanation of this is if 2.0 is 100, and 1.0 
is 10 and you subtract 1.0 from 2.0, you get 1.0, and that would 
be the log difference and represent arithmetic 10. Now, 2.0 is 
100, 1.0 is 10; subtract 10 from 100 and you get 90. But 10 into 
100 is 10, and not 90. (Maybe this is irrelevant for your project.) 

Teiser: What would be the disadvantage of translating all those into 
ordinary arithmetic expressions? 

Adams: I'm thinking very seriously of doing it, because we talk in mixed 
ways. The engraver says, "I want a print of 1.5 range." That's 
roughly one to 32 arithmetically. So, we can talk about a range 
of about one to 32. The Zone System would work out just as well 
with arithmetic numbers. But H & D (Hurter and Driff ield) , who 
developed the sensitometer, just established the logarithmic value 
convention because it gives a much simpler curve than you get 
arithmetically, although it can be thought of as geometric. I 
think that sometimes people just perpetuate errors, because for 
the life of me I don't see why you couldn't use arithmetic numbers. 
I don't understand it. If you've got 100 and then 200, you've got 
a range of one to 2. You can express one to 2 in logs one to 2 in 
logs would be a value of 0.3. If 0.0 is one, 0.3 would be 2, 0.6 
is 4, 0.9 is 8, 1.2 is 16, and so on. 


Adams: You get to read the curves easily. I don't have any trouble with 
them. I can read them. You can get a lot out of just looking at 
the curve its shape. But as that log system is geometric, and 
every step is 2X, I don't know why we can't call the steps 2, 4, 
8, 16, and so on. 

Teiser: Perhaps when everything goes on the metric system, all that can be 

Adams: Yes, but they won't change that. But it will be wonderful with 
computers. You can write in any log base you want. 

That's why the camera can be a terrible thing. The camera is 
now taken for granted: own the most expensive camera! You assume 
if you buy it, it's got to work. The construction of them is 
really a technological marvel. And the lenses are superb; nothing 
has been made like them to date. 

Technological Advances in Photographic Films 

Teiser: You were speaking the other day about film bases and so forth. And 
it occurred to me that you talked about the changes in printing 
papers but not much about the changes in films and their emulsions. 

Adams: Well, there's a progression from the beginning. Let's take the wet 
plate. First go back to the daguerreotype and the calotype. Then 
the wet plate and its collodion emulsion, it's sensitive to blue 
light only, and it had to be exposed and developed when wet. 
Collodion lasts a long, long time it's perfectly good. But it 
had that great disadvantage. 

Then back in the 1880s they developed the dry gelatin plate, 
and that was also sensitive only to blue light. Then they added 
dyes to the emulsion and rendered the plate sensitive to green 
light. That was called orthochromatic . The function of the dye 
is that while the silver halide responds only to blue light 
radiant energy the dye responds to green light, absorbs it, and 
transmits an energy to the halides, an amount of energy sufficient 
to reproduce images of both blue and green colors. Then came the 
panchromatic plate which had green- and red-sensitive dyes. And 
infrared requires another dye. 

Later, of course, everything went panchromatic, although you 
can still get ortho. You can make panchromatic film of ortho type 
by using a minus-red filter. And then you can make panchromatic 
film blue-sensitive by using a C-5 filter which cuts out all color 
but blue. The emulsions used to be fairly "thick." Nobody thought 


Adams: of them as being thick, they were just that way. And they had 

what is known as the "gamma wavelength effect." The short wave 
lengths scattered very quickly near the surface and the green 
penetrated, say, half-way (just for the sake of argument). 
Therefore an image in green light would have higher density, and 
then the red rays would penetrate much further. The contrasts 
would be rather high with a red filter. That was apart from the 
color separations. So in the old one-shot cameras, you took three 
pictures at once, through the three different filters blue, green, 
and red. You developed the green image normal, the blue image more, 
and the red image less to get the same contrast, or what is called 
"gamma" in the negatives. And that achieved the required color 
balance. Some of the earlier plates and films were extremely 
contrasty when made with a red filter. White clouds would be 
"burned out," and the sky would be very dark. 

With Polaroid, which gives a surface image, you can use all 
the filters and you get only a small change of contrast. You get 
a change of values the sky will be darker, the greens will be 
lighter, depending on what filter you use. But the whites will not 
increase in density to any extent. The shadows will be a little 
darker with a yellow, green, red filter, because they reduce the 
blue reflected light from the sky. 

So most of our present film is known as thin-emulsion type; 
one film made by Kodak, Super-XX, has the older characteristics. 
It's quite valuable in some work, where we can expand by prolonged 
development. With an emulsion we can't expand as much because 
there is less silver in the emulsion. But on the other hand, we 
get a sharper image. 

Teiser: When did that change come about, generally? 

Adams: I would say, thin emulsions, within the last ten years. I know 

when I got the first thin emulsion pan film I was so mad I called 
up Kodak and I said, "You put that on Kleenex! I can't handle it. 
It just folds up in the developing tank! When are you going to 
use a heavier film base?" They said, "Mr. Adams, it's just the 
same film base, but the emulsion is that much thinner." They said, 
"We are changing the film base. We have to." It was too flimsy. 
You couldn't feed it into the developing reels. That may be a 
great shock to people who always thought the emulsion was always 
a very thin coating whisper thin, you know. But it isn't; it's 
quite a structure. 

[End Tape 8, Side 2] 


[Begin Tape 9, Side 1] 

Teiser: As I remember, at the time the thin emulsion films came out, there 
was some claim that they were of higher acutance. 

Adams: Yes, they are. Well, I guess we can say that light scatters from 
a silver grain at a cosine 4 angle relationship to the direct ray. 
Some say it is a spherical diffusion. In Polaroid, the earlier 
positive-negative prints, the developing layer was fairly thick, 
so you had a loss of acuteness. You still would get all the 
resolution; if you look at it under a microscope you see so many 
lines per millimeter. But because the silver passes at an angle 
through the thickness of the developer, a difference of point of 
emergence to the point of exit, you'd see there'd be quite a little 
diffusion effect. With the old Ansco Superpan Supreme, which was 
a magnificent film in large sizes, when used in 35 millimeter size 
you couldn't get a sharp image except with a very long focus lens. 
With short focal length lens, the light would come in at an angle; 
the loss of acutance related to that angle. And the further away 
you were from the center of the film the worse the loss of defi 
nition would be. 

Teiser: Meanwhile, the speeds of the film emulsions have... 

Adams: They've improved speed. But of course that again is, in a sense, 
misunderstood. The emulsion speed is a pretty fixed thing, and 
you don't change it by development as some think you do; the ASA 
remains the same on the exposure index. I have to operate and 
work with Tri-X at 250 speed to get the density range I want. It's 
advertised at 320 and 400, but that's losing some shadow densities. 
Plus-X is advertised at 125; I use it at 64. Of course this means 
less development; you get a very smooth image. 

Now if, say, 64 gives me a zone I value proper density value 
and I want to shoot at 125, that moves the exposure to Zone II; at 
250 it moves up to III, and at 500 it moves up to IV. And that 
means I must increase development, so what is there is a general 
increase in density in other areas of the image. Also an increase 
in grain. You've seen many pictures where you have no shadow 
detail at all say pictures taken at night, groups in nightclubs 
or theaters. They're actually empty shadows. They're shooting 
that film at something like maybe 1200, and ferociously over 
developing it, and they lost all the shadow values. 

Teiser: I suppose you could be accused of overexposure and underdevelopment , 
but that would be a subjective judgment. 

Adams: Well, at higher speeds, developed in conventional process, I think 
it's Kodak's 8000, which is scientific film, there's not good image 
quality. Land has the 10,000-speed film for the oscilloscope, 


Adams: which does its work beautifully but it couldn't be used very well 
in nature. Land actually had film at ASA 20,000 could photograph 
by starlight. Twenty thousand ASA is a pretty fast you'd have a 
hard time not overexposing that under any normal lighting 

Teiser: Are attempts being made to increase speed in a quality sense? 

Adams: Oh yes, they're doing that all the time. But you come into some 
very complicated physical laws, I guess quantum laws apply. I 
don't know; I'm not enough of a mathematician for that. But you 
see, there are two big objectives. One is to get away from silver. 
Silver is getting scarcer. Strangely enough, there's never been 
anything as light sensitive as silver halide. And you know that 
a halide is silver combined with bromine, chlorine, fluorine, or 
iodine. And, there's been nothing that can equal that. They've 
been experimenting with color-sensitive dyes and other strange 
concoctions, and they haven't gotten very far with it. 

Electrostatic photography like Xerox has got some continuous 
tone, but it's not very good for general purpose; the equipment is 

The next step will probably be light amplification. That is, 
a cathode tube like they use in astronomical photography. With it 
you are picking up the impulse of light, and you can magnify that 
as many times as you wish. You have it also when you g6 to a 
modern x-ray fluoroscope. They don't look through you any more 
and see your "shadow" on the screen. You're getting one-fiftieth 
of the dose, and they look at a television screen. This is 
because the very faint image that is generated can be amplified 
electrically. That may be the next step where you'll have a 
very, very faint image which might be amplified in the camera or 
might be amplified out of camera. We don't know. But it will 

Teiser: What speed films were you using when you started photographing? 

Adams: Oh heavens, they were down to 25, 40, 32 I think 50 was a pretty 
high speed. Then they got to 100, and everybody gasped. The 
picture of the Golden Gate [1932] was done on Kodak Super Pancho- 
press, which I think had a Weston speed of 50, which would be 64 
ASA. Pretty grainy, but it had fine quality. 

Teiser: Those were the kinds of films that Oscar Barnack, who made the 
first 35 millimeter "candid" photographs, was using. 

Adams: The first miniature, yes. 


Adams: I have made prints from old negatives. I have a print of Arnold 
Genthe's picture of Chinatown- -1904. It was done with a postcard 
Kodak, the film speed of which was probably 16. And this is as 
good as anything Cartier-Bresson ever did. It's absolutely 
magnificent. It is also a beautiful image. I mean, tonally. 
We got a gorgeous print out of it. Now that was just an ortho- 
chromatic film. And it was a very curly film. Noncurling it said, 
"n.c.," but it was better than the earlier film. 

"The Negative is Like the Composer's Score" 

Adams: There's always this problem of the photographer having to adjust. 
If I have a 35 millimeter camera, I see things a certain way, in 
relation to that camera. And I would compose, if I were a 
composer, for certain instruments. I wouldn't try to write some 
thing for the flute that would sound better on the pipe organ. (I 
mean, that's an extreme case.) 

Then you go through all these processes. You just try to get 
the image that you want. Sometimes you know what it is, and 
sometimes you don't. You just feel your way. And a lot of photo 
graphers only view something they don't really "see" it. They 
see you sitting there and they go "click." And then they have some 
empirical experience, so they get some usable exposure, but they 
still may have an awful lot of darkroom fussing to do. And many 
times they have no concern whatsoever for tonal quality or 

I had a girl working for me once who wanted to be a 
photographer. She'd done a little work. She made some proofs of 
my pictures, and I couldn't recognize them. Now, this is an 
interesting thing. She had absolutely no print sense. Could not 
make a print that had any value at all. And I was printing my own 
pictures of national parks, and I couldn't recognize them.' 
Because I hadn't seen them just as a picture of the Big White 
Throne, but as a value composition. This thing would come out 
looking just awful. 

Teiser: When you have someone working with you that way, do you ordinarily 
have a print to guide them by? 

Adams: Well, I don't let them print. Liliane De Cock was the only one 
who really made very fine prints. And Gerry Sharpe could make a 
fine print. And I think my new man, Ted Organ, can make them, too. 
But he just thinks mostly of the work in his own field. But I have 
to make my own fine exhibit prints. Sometimes, with the special 


Adams: edition prints, I can start it off, then have my assistant repeat; 
but even that has a very subtle difference. It's very hard to 
explain, to put your finger right on the problem. Edward Weston's 
boys made prints from his negatives. They were a little more 
brilliant, some of them were really "better," but in the main they 
don't look like Edward's prints. They don't have quite that 
feeling. It's very hard to describe. 

I had to make an enlargement of one of Edward Weston's 
negatives for an exhibit. I had the print it was very good and 
he loaned me the negative. I had his print to go by. And I had 
one of the most difficult times in my life trying to make a print 
that felt a little like Edward's. I can make a print no trouble 
in that. This was a pretty good negative not too sharp; he'd 
never enlarged, you know. But to get that peculiar quality that 
was Edward Weston's to even approach it was tough! 

And the same thing with the Clarence Kennedy pictures of 
sculpture. He had the most extraordinary feeling in the marble 
quality of his images. I've tried everything under the sun. I'm 
printing, I'm bleaching I can't get that same "feeling." Of 
course, what really happened is that he didn't process things too 
accurately. In twenty, thirty years high values have bleached out 
a little. The high values as they are suggest sparkle and trans- 
lucence, which is in a way an accident! 

Teiser: That brings up the whole point of what is a negative, and how will 
it last? What should it stand for? What should its life be? 

Adams: There's the recent trend (of course, like most trends, everything 
is overdone) for the "archival" as they call it. People are just 
going out of their minds in trying to process and protect the 
negative and print images, making the image totally permanent. 
Well, two hypo baths and selenium toning will make an image 
extremely permanent. If you mounted it on a bad board or subjected 
it to sulphur carrying boards, high acid boards and slip sheets, 
and other chemical conditions, you could do damage. 

Now, I have some of my earlier negatives and prints that are 
fading; the ones made before we used the two fixing baths. But I 
seldom find a negative, even some I developed in the field, that 
shows deterioration. The early negatives, of course, were on 
nitrate base, which was very dangerous, because under humid 
conditions, if people didn't keep them properly, they would 
deteriorate into nitroglycerin. Kennedy had a whole bunch of 
negatives with paper separators in a drawer, and all of them were 
in almost liquid condition! If anybody would come there with a 
cigarette a dangerous fire could occur. 


Adams : 

Teiser ; 

Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 

And I remember one time an air force captain, Albert Stevens, gave 
me a great big roll of outdated aerofilm. And he said, "Look, I 
just have to throw it away. So why don't you take it? You can 
cut it up and use it. It's fine stuff. It's just outdated and we 
can't use it; it'll last for a year or two if you keep it cool." 

Well, I kept it around for three or four years, and I thought, 
"I'd better dispose of this," so I took it out in a sand lot in 
back of my house, dug a hole, and I put the cannister in it. I 
had an old flashpowder wick; I stuck that into the roll of film, 
and lit it and went to a safe distance. The fire looked like Old 
Faithful. The thing blew up, in roaring flames. 

The Cleveland Clinic disaster in its x-ray department was of 
similar nature. The fire started, and then thousands of x-ray 
films, of nitrate base, exploded. 

Then the manufacturers changed to acetate base, which is much 
more stable. The Golden Gate picture, for instance, has shrunk 
over a quarter of an inch in both dimensions. The acetate base 
has more stability. 

Now Kodak has what they call the Estar base, which has 
extraordinary stability. It's a plastic well, so's acetate, 
because they're all plastic of a kind. 

We were looking in the Friends of Photography gallery here in 
Carmel, at photographs by Frederick Evans. One of the captions 
said that his wife required that all of his negatives be destroyed 
on his death or her death. 

No, they really weren't, because they've been making some prints 
from them. I guess his son kept them. Well now, maybe they copied 
his prints. 

It said they were made from positive slides for projection. 

That may be right, 
copies from those. 

There were positive slides, and they could make 

I wonder, though, why would anyone want the negatives destroyed. 

Well, it's a great problem we all have. Now, with Weston, his sons 
could carry on his work, in a sense. Now, I have a great many 
Yosemite pictures which are very valuable commercially for the 
family. And it would be terrible to destroy those. But take that 
white post and spandrel picture ["White Post, Columbia, California"] 
I don't know who else could print that just that way. I have a 
certain feeling about it, and it takes quite a technique to get it, 
and if it wouldn't be my work, what good would the negative be? It 


Adams: would be very easy to destroy all the negatives, except the ones 
that have historic value or scientific value, or some commercial 
value. But my "Moonrise" [Hernandez] print, unless it were made 
by me, it would have no value. There are hundreds of them. And 
so, if something happens to me and I can't print them any more, 
what do I do? My Portfolio V negatives are all canceled. I have 
an old canceling machine I got from the Wells Fargo Bank I 

Teiser: That's the Varian portfolio? 

Adams: No, Varian 's was Portfolio IV. Portfolio V was limited to 110 

copies only. That means I never can print any more of the images. 
The other day I found two or three prints, and I had to tear them 
up because they're not supposed to be out. And I have quite a 
number of them extra ones that were mounted in case of disaster. 
And they really shouldn't be around, because my contract and my 
ethics say that there were just 110 things printed, and one hundred 
for sale. But I have a few temporarily. For instance, an accident 
happened to the one a client had; I could supply another. And I 
asked for the damaged print back, and that was destroyed, and I 
sent them another numbered the same. But I can do that up to a 
certain point, you see. But I'd have to have the other one back 
and destroy it, so there' d never be any more than the stated number 
of prints available. 

Teiser: So, in effect, the negative stands for nothing in itself? 

Adams: No. The negative is like the composer's score. The print is like 
the performance, but it's not a score that can be performed by 
others. We say that. Now, of course, it's perfectly possible 
that a photographer could come along and get more out of my prints. 
But the question is: would it be me? And the collector, the 
purchaser, and the expert, they want the original of the artist's 
work. Whether the other person doing it would do a better job is 
an ethical question that's very important. 

Sometimes we get too precious, but it depends. I sell .a print 
for, say, $200, $250. The price for a 16 by 20, after this fall, 
is going to be $350.* Now, that has a rare value. I mean if a 
person buys a print by me and pays for it. That person is not 
going to be very happy if he sees another print out that's almost 
like it but doesn't have my signature. That's an ethical point. 

*After September 1976 it is five hundred dollars for all prints 
16 by 20 or smaller. [A. A.] 


Adams: As far as the creation of a photograph goes, if you can divorce 

it from that element, then you should make as many as possible for 
as low a price as possible, if you want to get the message around. 

Clarence Kennedy, after all his sculpture pictures were out, 
claimed he could do prints for fifteen or twenty cents apiece! 
He'd have a student printing them. But I think he tried it, but 
the prints didn't look like his pictures. There are all kinds of 
pictures of these sculptures around. There wasn't a thing he 
photographed that hadn't been photographed a thousand times. But 
he got something remarkable in his images, you see a "spiritual" 
interpretation of the marble. Then the whole concept related to 
the original art element, and the creative photographic element. 
For instance, there are many pictures of Death Valley that are 
much sharper than anything Edward [Weston] ever did. Edward didn't 
worry too much about true sharpness. He didn't enlarge, he didn't 
have very good lenses until the end. And it didn't make any 
difference with the contact print an old rectilinear lens gave a 
beautiful image. But you enlarge it two or three times, and it 
begins to "go to pieces." 

But as I say, there's nothing worse than a very sharp image 
of a very fuzzy concept. [Laughter] That's one of the illusions 
that people have about Group f/64. Actually if we had stopped 
down everything to f/64, we couldn't make many enlargements, 
because at f/64 the diffraction patterns enter and the image isn't 
sharp. It just has great depth of field, which gives an illusion 
of sharpness. 

Well, I think the reason that I went to the Art Center School 
was to teach, and the reason that the Zone System was developed 
was that I found that I couldn't teach anything but just the way I 
did it myself. And, as a musician and teacher, I was trained that 
you had to find out what the student had to say and help him say it 
his way. Because all hands are different and minds are different 
and feelings are different, so the function of a good teacher is to 
draw out, not necessarily to make the student imitate. One of the 
most successful teachers in Berkeley, Miss Simpson, taught with 
two pianos. And that's one of the most dangerous things you can do, 
because her students sounded just like she did. She would play a 
phrase and they would imitate it. But a teacher like Benjamin 
Moore, for instance, would never play for the student. He'd always 
ask you, "Now, do you really think that you have fully developed 
that phrase?" etc. And would give me other descriptive symbols, 
but would never play. 

Frederick Zech was a pupil of Von Billow. He was the most 
incredible technician. When he was eighty years old he could do 
chromatic double sixths which would put your hair on end. And he 
would sometimes show off, you know. "I want you to get your double 


Adams: thirds," [makes a sound] "rruup," straight chromatic," and your 
double fourths" "rruup," you know. And I'd go home with these 
things in mind and try to get it. But when it came to playing, 
he would talk about the playing, not play for you! 

I remember doing some Liszt and he'd talk about everything 
in the world from pontifical moods to passion, to many things, but 
he never would play. He certainly could play it. He had this 
ability as a pianist, but he didn't want me to hear him and imitate 
him. That wasn't the job. I had to do it. 

Teiser: So he had to teach you basic technique. 

Adams: Well, the technique and the style is very complicated, because 
they're there and they guide you. That was the whole point of 
getting the person facile but it's so easy to imitate. Some 
people play "by ear." They've heard something and they can 
imitate it. That isn't true individualism in music. 

Well, the same thing in photography. You can set up your 
tripod, find the tripod holes in the ground your predecessor made, 
set up and do the picture, and you may get just as sharp an image, 
and with a lens of the same focal length you'll get everything 
optically the same. 

Then comes the other thing what kind of a print? I mean, 
how you carry the interpretation. You can lose the sense of your 
substance, rock; you can lose the sense of light. I don't know if 
I'm making any sense now. This is getting a little bit quasi- 

Beauty or Therapy 

Adams: But the photograph can be beautiful and personal. I think the 

sense of beauty in photographs belongs to a romantic age. I think 
the contemporary whole art spirit is really negative to photographic 
expression in the sense that I practice it (or vice versa) . Very 
few people are making what we call beautiful prints, where the 
print itself is a beautiful object. They're making images 
extraordinary, complex and sometimes very brilliant experiments. 
The image may be interesting, but the print inadequate. The idea 
is interesting. The actual print can be very ugly. And whether 
the idea would ever admit to a beautiful print being made of it, 
we don't know. 


Adams: And of course a lot of the philosophy today is camera as therapy 
that was one of Minor White's points; presuming that everybody has 
problems and is a bit on the psychologically sick side. You had to 
explore yourself little outgoing motivation. I think that bothers 
me more than anything. The fact of doing something for the outer 
world as Beaumont Newhall said, "After all, pictures should be 
things to look at, not just experiments in vacuum cleaning your 
psyche." [Laughter] 

Teiser: Well, it's communication. 

Adams: It really is communication, and the communication depends pretty 

much on the state of mind or the condition of your compassion, and 
I think the trouble today is that there is a lack of compassion, 
which means mutual understanding and acceptance. These artists 
are so flagrantly well, I could choose the word dominating. It's 
a very difficult word to find. It's not a matter of being selfish, 
not a matter of being opinionated, but simply I guess you'd use 
the words "flamboyant insistence." 

But one of the reasons that the painters have been holding 
onto these big galleries is that they're painting gigantic pictures, 
you see. Pictures half the size of the wall. 

And I saw in Pasadena a beautifully hung show a lot of 
contemporary things which were just structures attached to the 
wall; some came out on the floor. And we had a joke here the 
other day, because there was some photographic paper that had not 
been developed. It had just been taken out in long rolls. And 
of course they've turned color. It's a kind of a blue and a brown. 
So I thought if I could just set that up on a wall and exhibit it. 
During the whole exhibit, it would be different every day. It 
would change, fade and turn color. And it was just as interesting 
as some of the [Mark] Rothko things. [Doorbell rings people enter] 

Astronomical Photography and Videotape 

Adams: Now, this man that's coming in is at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 
And he brings me moon pictures and Mars pictures. And he's a 
fascinating gentleman and very much interested in photography. 
I'd like to introduce him, because he represents another phase of 
work I'm interested in, moon and the Mars photography. I have 
quite a collection. He's Stanley Crotch, Ph.D. He is an analytical 
chemist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. They come up 
every once in a while to see us, and they're a wonderful family. 


Adams: But anyway, the description of astronomical photography in plain 
and simple form is complicated enough, but now we have image- 
amplification and the radio telescope responses, plus satellite 
photography; the computer numerical system such as used by the 
Mariners where the picture is scanned and instead of an "image" 
they send numbers it's a kind of a super-densitometer the numbers 
relating to the areas of density of the image. And these numbers 
come in a continuous stream so they can be picked up by the 
computer and put in sequence and line. The scanner goes in one 
direction for the image. When it reverses it transmits the read 
ings of the instruments on board, then it reverses direction again 
for the image and again returns with instrumental information. 
When you consider the whole electronic image is about twenty 
millimeters square, or 20 by 30 millimeters (and there's hundreds 
of lines scanning in that small area), and it travels thirty-five 
million miles or fifty million miles, you have a miracle. As 
somebody said, the energy received is much less than that used by 
a very small fly climbing up the window, and yet these pictures 
come out with amazing precision and clarity. 

Then the image is put in a computer and translated into 
actual tonal values and can be "enhanced." The acuteness can be 
enhanced by the computer. The first moon pictures were produced 
that way. You saw the actual grains of sand and soil actually 
fantastic. Hence the illusion of extreme definition through 
computer enhancement. That can be used in ordinary photography 
too, I imagine. It's really quite something! 

Teiser: I've been wondering about the videotape system, where you put the 
image on tape. 

Adams: Oh, that's a tremendous new field. 

Teiser: Has it any possible future application to still photography? 

Adams: Right now it is not so much still as moving. But there's no 

reason it couldn't be still. The whole cassette concept has really 
changed the world of television. Your live shows may be the 
exception. For instance, we could have a converter set on which 
we could show about anything we wanted, black and white or in 
color. We could rent or buy tape. And we could have the whole 
opera or a travelogue or a scientific lecture or a dissertation. 
Anything we wanted, we'd just put in this device and it is 
revealed on the screen. I've seen some trials and they're 
absolutely beautiful. Now there's no reason why I couldn't go out 
with a video machine that will give me an image, you see, on tape 
a creative image. That could be moving or static. It could be a 
photograph of a photograph! And they did some very fine things in 
reproductions of works of art. 


Adams: The first time I saw this tape system they used a van, and they 

did a picture at Glacier Point. It was a television series, and I 
was in it, and I had to come out and talk. They had focussed on 
the landscape, and they used filters just like I would. When 
finished with this, they said, "Well, I think we have it. Would 
you like to come in and see it?" I said, "Come and see what?" 
"Come see it in this bus." In this little room were two or three 
seats and a screen, and we saw the "take" and it was absolutely 
beautiful! The mountains were clear and sharp. The only thing is, 
my face was in shadow. It was out of the exposure range, and they 
could not hold values in the shadows. We had to do it all over 
again, with lights and reflections, and build up the shadow. It 
was a fantastic experience; the final results were remarkably well 

All of that is one form of imagery, and photography is a form 
of imagery. I mean, what is a photograph but an image? Now we 
are doing three-dimensional photography. There was a show in San 
Francisco by Michael Bry. I was quite impressed with these big 
translucent panels hanging moving in space with images on them. 
I mean, all these things are very moving if they're well done. 
First, they're all valid experiments in the laboratory. Now how 
many experiments are worth taking out of the laboratory and showing? 
The trouble today is they're showing too many things that still 
should be in the laboratory. As if I would rent Carnegie Hall and 
play the Clement i octave studies, you see. [Laughs] It's not that 
you wouldn't have a student gallery, but I'm speaking of public 
communication. Some things are so far-out, so far undeveloped that 
they don't belong in exhibits. Too many of our exhibits today are 
of that character. 

Teiser: Is there any reason why you couldn't use videotape in a still 


Adams: Well, no, the principle is well, what is a television camera? 
It's a cathode tube, which is scanning four hundred lines, or 
something, per second. I can put it on tape; I can compose, as I 
would a movie. I don't see why it couldn't be simply wonderful, 
why I couldn't go out with this camera and a finder, and whether 
this camera couldn't have the adjustments that we have with 
conventional equipment. I don't know why it couldn't. They use 
perfectly beautiful optical lenses, just about the same as camera 
lenses. I'd never know the difference if I used one on the camera. 

I saw the big CBS studio when I was on the "Today" show the 
lens, for instance, about that big (four inches across!) working 
about f/2. Twenty-four thousand dollars for a zoom lens some 
fantastic figure I don't think that's accurate; it may be a little 
less. But it was a very impressive amount. And they're picking up 
these images in color and when you see them on the monitors in the 
television control room they're really beautiful. They're sharp. 


Adams : 




So most of your color, and even black and white, transmission you 
get is always of lesser quality than what you'd get in the station. 
Except when you have cable television; then you have, of course, 
much more accurate delivery. 

So we're getting into another field now, but television is an 
image process. Being an image process, it has a direct relation to 
photography. And maybe the future of photography will be very 
closely allied to this technique. And I would very much like to 
have a television camera and do a tape which would go on a cassette, 
which would be a creative experience. 

Have you done any motion pictures? 

Oh no, very little. I did a series in Yosemite years ago with a 
Zeiss Moviecon, which was a beautiful piece of equipment. It was 
like the Kodak 16 camera, and it had a shutter adjustment u p to 
1/1000 of a second, so you could take separate frames of 1/1000 
per second exposure. I did details of water with a very high 
shutter speed on panatomic film and had that developed in para- 
phenylene-diamine, and had a print made and developed also in para- 
phenylene-diamine . It was the most beautiful image you've ever 
seen in your life. Beautiful color, warm, rich, and sharp. It 
burned up in the fire we had at Yosemite. It was only one hundred 
feet, but it proved a point to me. And then I never got back to 

Brett Weston is home, 

Why don't you interview him,* maybe 

We were going to talk to Henry Gilpin 

Oh yes, that's good. Well, Brett Weston called me and told me he 
was back. 

I tried to get hold of your neighbor here, Dick McGraw. 
Oh, he's gone, he's on a trip. Just left. 

I'm thinking of Fred Farr can give you conservation ideas 
so can the Owings . I think you ought to do a tape on both Margaret 
and Nat [Nathaniel] Owings. They're remarkable people, and they 

*A series of interviews with some friends and associates of 
Ansel Adams was taped. See Interview History. 



have really a big background in everything, 
in conservation and the environment. 

They'd be very fine 

Adams : 

Adams : 

At this moment, I'm sort of anathema to a large group of 
environmentalists because I insist on using common sense, and I 
won't get emotional about some of these things. I'm not a push 
button liberal or environmentalist. I'd like to go on record. 
[Laughs] Things are getting really out of hand, and the backlash 
is going to be very distressing. People like Margaret and Nat are 
very wonderful, sensible people. 

You mentioned Garrod, and we'll try to speak to him. 

Yes, Dick Garrod. He's the city planner at Monterey and he's good. 
McGraw is good. I think he well, you get another side. He's an 
extremely critical person. We are very old friends, dear friends, 
but we scold each other, so he probably will give you some valuable 
but slightly negative ideas about what I should have done, and what 
I didn't do, and so on. 

Rosario Mazzeo, he's quite important. 
Who is he? 

He's a very fine musician, a clarinetist, and he was the first desk 
clarinet with the Boston Symphony, and the personnel manager as 
well. And he also is a very experienced photographer, especially 
in wildlife. And he's going to do more photography, I hope. Don't 
quote me he's got a very good eye, but he doesn't know yet how to 
print. I scold him all the time. But both he and his wife are 
extraordinary musicians she's a pianist. And Rosario 's quite a 
force. I mean, he's a very potent gentleman. We've known each 
other now for twenty years, and he can give you all kinds of details 
of my life in Boston. I introduced the Lands to them, and I 
insisted on painting their dining room ceiling blue, which they 
liked very much because it made a terrible difference in the Boston 
stuffy apartments. This was a kind of Italianate space. I said, 
"Well, this room is kind of brown-gray dim. If you just take the 
ceiling and paint it blue, you'll have a sense of space." My God, 
Katy did it, and it looked beautiful. I kept my fingers crossed, 
because I am no decorator! [Laughs] 

Anyway, he's somebody you might see, and he's somebody that 
really would deserve quite an interview in himself, because he works 
very closely with the University and at Tanglewood. Big musical 
background, very big. [Interruption] 


Adams: This is Dr. Stanley Crotch.* This is the oral biography project 
for The Bancroft Library. So if you have anything to say about 
me... [Laughs] I've been telling them about my interest in 
astronomical and satellite photography, and I have a total lack of 
technical knowledge about it, but a great interest. 

Crotch: Well, you've sort of come in at I guess the highlight of the whole 
thing the renaissance, if you will. And probably the end of it 
for a while. We in it can see just another few more years of it, 
and that's probably going to be the end of it for a while. Within 
probably our creative life. 

V. Adams: What about the brilliant things we read about in the paper the 
other day? 

Adams: Supernova, they said. 

Crotch: I don't know much about it. It's not that we don't hear it, but we 
really know little more than anyone reading a paper. And you know, 
it's only when it comes in the scientific journals that you find 
out a little bit more in terms of technical details. It's a very 

Adams: What was exciting about this was that this was a real supernova, 
the first one observed for many years. Now with our knowledge of 
radio-astronomy, they know how to really look at such things. 

Crotch: Well, the whole field of communications when these spacecraft get 
out there hundreds of millions of miles away, it's no mean trick 
to be able to pick up their signal the radio signal. In fact, 
that's the only contact we have with them. And the technology for 
being able to do that is really an extraordinary one. Just simply 
being able to hear something transmitting with a few watts of power 
at several hundred million miles away. 

Adams: And the energy that comes in is about equivalent to a gnat slowly 
crawling up a window pane. 

Crotch: A drunken gnat. lLaughter"] No, the whole technology of being able 
to do that and that of course has gone over into this area of 
radio-astronomy of being able to pick out these extremely weak 
sources is incredible. 

Adams: She was asking about photography extending photography into 

different fields. I was talking about computer enhancement, digital 
frequencies and 

*See also p. 221. 


Crotch: I think they're only just beginning now to scratch the surface. 
It's really remarkable that the whole thing has existed, maybe, 
ten years. It's so new, and it's changing so rapidly as more 
people get into it. It's very hard to see it. One doesn't see it 
yet as a creative kind of thing, perhaps because the people who are 
in it are basically not artistic as such, but are more scientific. 

You know, the guys at JPL I the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 
Pasadena], when I mentioned I might see you this weekend, said 
you've got to come and see some of the facilities they have there 
for doing exactly what you're saying computer processing. 

[End Tape 9, Side 1] 

Early Years in Yosemite 

[Interview VIII 29 May 1972] 
[Begin Tape 9, Side 2] 

[Mr. and Mrs. Adams. Mrs. Adams alone at the beginning.] 

Teiser: When did you meet your husband? 

V. Adams: I don't know 1923 maybe. I don't know. You know, my father had 
that shop and studio* in Yosemite Valley. Mother died, and I was 
taking care of the house. And we had a piano. Not many people 
in the valley at that time had a piano. This was an old square 
Chickering. There was a ranger-naturalist named Ansel Hall, and 
so one day he brought this young man in. He said, "I'm going to 
bring in my namesake. And he'd like to play on your piano." And 
I thought you know, namesake . To my mind, it was the last name, 
and I kept wanting to say, "Mr. Hall." It seemed to me to be the 
natural thing to do. It took me awhile to realize it was the 
first name. 

Well anyway, Ansel was acting as custodian at the LeConte 
Memorial in the valley, and his custom was to take photographs for 
a month after this summer in the valley, and then go back home to 
San Francisco, and he'd spend weeks developing all the pictures 
he'd made. You know, there was no darkroom in Yosemite then. That 
was just in the bathroom, you know things were simple like that. 

*The Best Studio. Mrs. Adams's father was Harry C. Best, the 
artist, who established the studio in 1902. He died in 1936. 


V. Adams: Then he'd go back to practicing again. He used to practice eight 
hours a day in fall and winter so that well, when he was really 
going on his practicing, he'd start in the morning his father 
would leave for the office about eight-thirty and then he'd go 
into the living room and practice. (This was in San Francisco.) 
And about ten- thirty he'd go out in the kitchen and he'd make tea 
for his mother and his aunt and himself that gave him a break, 
you see and then he'd go back until half past eleven or twelve, 
and then it was lunchtime, and then he'd practice in the afternoon 

V . Adams : 

V. Adams: 

V. Adams: 

Well anyway, to go back to Yosemite, he had no piano up there, 
and he was delighted at the idea of having one not to practice on 
but to sit and play a little bit. And it took me quite awhile 
before I realized that it wasn't only the piano that brought him 
down to the [laughter] Because I just really wasn't emotionally 
ready to get interested in anybody, and didn't believe anybody 'd 
be interested in me. 

So he'd come down it's about a mile, mile and a quarter, 
maybe from the LeConte Lodge to the old village. He came down 
fairly often. He used to make the excuse that he had to go over 
to the government warehouse to get something, and they used to 
tease him about that. It was his excuse to get out and do something 
else. [Laughter] 

So that's when I first met him and sort of the second year, 
I was amazed that he was really interested in me. It took me awhile 
to really respond. I just thought I wasn't ready for it. And then 
when we did get engaged, I went down to see his family in San 
Francisco and visited with them. Dad and I lived in San Diego in 
the winter time, and so we'd stop by on the way up or down. That's 
the first time I can think of meeting his family. 

Was he photographing then? 

Well, he'd go out for a month on a trip after he'd had the summer 
in the valley and photograph, and then he'd come back with the 
pictures. He'd go with some other young man and a donkey or two. 

At some point fairly early he had started making prints for your 

Shop, yes. He did that. [Speaks to A. A.] Are you ready now, 
darling? All right. 

[In the distance] Not quite. 

Yes, he did. I mean, after we got engaged. Here was an opportunity 
to make a little money. Nobody had any money in those days, you 


V. Adams: [Aside] Ansel, I'm going to go in about one-half minute, unless 
you can think of something I can do for you. I can stay 

Adams: You can help by correcting my dates. 

V. Adams: No. [To Teiser] Ask me some more, I'm full of facts. 

Teiser: What were the pictures he started making that you sold? 

V. Adams: Oh, of Yosemite. Not so much of the high country, because I don't 
think Dad thought they would sell as well. Pictures of the valley, 
and nice delicate little scenes in the forest. 

Teiser: Small prints? 

V. Adams: Yes. Some were four by five mounted on a bigger card, and some 
I guess were maybe eight by ten and ten by twelve, but nothing 
like these big things at all. 

Teiser: Do any of those still exist? Do you have any of them? 

V. Adams: I don't think that I have. I don't know. We'll have to ask 

Ansel. It may be that there are some. I know Nancy Newhall tried 
to find all sorts of things from early days [when she was gathering 
material for The Eloquent Light] . 

Teiser: Incidentally, you asked if we'd like to see some of those papers, 
and maybe sometime we would. 

V. Adams: Well, I know she sent back a lot of things. We'll have to ask Jim 
where he filed them away.* There were many things she took east 
right in the beginning. Then they had a big fire in Rochester, and 
there was smoke damage on some things, and things that I didn't 
know what had happened to them turned up to be safe and came back 
west again. 

But I know there are lots and lots of things, and I've got 
pictures and pictures and pictures. 

Teiser: We were speaking this morning to Mr. Mazzeo... 

V. Adams: The Mazzeos knew Ansel when he'd go to Boston, and I didn't get 

east. I had to stay here and run the shop in Yosemite, so I didn't 
get out very much. He said he's got a beautiful tape of Ansel's 
playing that someday he's going to try to put together. He can't 
do it now because of his hands arthritis. 

*A lot of material is now in my vault. [A. A.] 


V. Adams: [Calling] Ansel, come back now; it's your turn. [To A. A. , who had 
come in] Was that '23 when you and I met, when Ansel Hall 
introduced us? 

Adams: No, I think it was before that. I first came there in 1916. I had 
been laid up with the flu, and I read [James M. ] Hutchings's book, 
In the Heart of the Sierras, and got very excited. The family was 
going to take a vacation, and I said, "Well, why not go to Yosemite?" 

V. Adams: Was that the first time they visited Yosemite? 

Adams: Yes, 1916. 

V. Adams: Because they went almost every year afterwards.* 

Adams: None of the family had been there earlier except my grandmother had 
in 1870. We were there for the first vacation. I think it was four 
weeks long. 

Teiser: Was it as good as Hutchings said it was going to be? 

Adams: Oh, much core so. Yes. But Hutchings had a definite control, 

though a mood. We took walks up in the Little Yosemite Valley, 
and then up the Yosemite Falls trail, and I remember seeing Joe 
LeConte running down with his family one afternoon. 

Teiser: Helen LeConte** said that he said that you had met in 1916; she 
didn't remember, but he said you had. 

Adams: It was on the Yosemite Falls trail in 1916. 
V. Adams: I didn't realize that. 

Adams: We went to the Big Trees. We then left by way of Miami Lodge, 
stayed there, and then on to Raymond. 

V. Adams: They went by auto stage. 

Adams: Coming in you'd take the Pullman at eight o'clock in the morning 

from Oakland. You'd get to Merced around noon, and they'd connect 
the car to the Yosemite Valley Railroad, and then you'd puff up the 
Merced River to El Portal, which was hotter than the hinges of the 
hereafter! We stayed overnight at the El Portal Hotel. 

*In 1917, '18, '19, and '20. [A. A.] 

**Joseph N. LeConte 's daughter. See her Reminiscences, a Sierra 

Club interview completed in 1977. 


V. Adanis: They arranged it so they got to see lots of scenery. 
Adams: We came in early in the morning in big white buses. 
V. Adams: Well, it's very beautiful coming in the morning. 

Adams: Yes, marvelous. And we arrived at Camp Curry. And an old fake, 
Mr. [D.A.] Curry, roaming around, greeting people and shouting at 
night for the fire fall. It was real circus stuff. And we had 
tent #305 

V. Adams: Oh, you did? [Laughter] 

Adams: And I think it was that afternoon that I fell off a stump. I got 
up on a stump which was rotten. I was trying to take a picture of 
Half Dome. I fell off, and on the way down I clicked the camera 
a little Number One Brownie and got a completely upside down 
picture. Mr. [A.C.] Pillsbury developed the film couldn't 
understand how that picture was upside down. "What did you do 
hold it over your head?" And I said, "No, I fell off a stump." 
I think from that time on he thought I was a liar. I knew him for 
many years . 

Teiser: Who else, however, could have got a picture at all? [Laughs] 
Adams: It's a good picture. I've got the negative somewhere. [Laughter] 

And, oh, I don't know... we did all the things. And then I 
came back with my mother the next year, and that's when I met Mr. 
[Francis] Holman and went on my first camping trip. Bessie Pond and 
the Admiral. . . 

V. Adams: Admiral Pond. 

Adams: I forget. Bessie [Elizabeth Keith] Pond and a Miss Smith, a Scotch 
lady. I guess the admiral [Charles F. Pond] was there, and some 
other friend. It was raining; and, oh, Merced Lake was very dismal. 
It cleared up that night, and the next morning I remember climbing 
up the ridge. We camped between Lake Merced and Lake Washburn at a 
bend in the river, and a big glaciated ridge, right out to the north. 
I climbed up at dawn, and there were all those crags under Mount 
Clark, all shining in the sunrise, and that "did it." [Pause] That 
entrapped me forever. We didn't climb Mount Clark that year. We 
went to Lake Washburn and Babcock Lake and Fletcher Creek Dome and 
returned to Yosemite Valley. 


Mountain Trips with Francis Holman 

Adams: Then the next year I was there with my mother, who stayed at Camp 
Curry, and Mr. Holman and I went on many trips. And an old 
friend, Mr. Schu, a farmer, was with us. And oh boy, we did some 
real scrambles. We got up at dawn and got going with our donkeys. 
We would get in at dark and set up camp, and dinner was a mixture 
of ants and cinders and hash or whatever it was. 

V. Adams: Who did the cooking? 

Adams: Everybody sort of pitched in. We had nothing but coffee cans with 
wires as holders; we had one frying pan, the coffee pot, and 
several kettles tin cans only. And of course, they'd get all 
blackened. So it was quite a job to keep it clean. And then we'd 
travel or climb all day. 

V. Adams: Where did you go Merced Lake? 

Adams: Oh yes. Well, Merced Lake and Tuolomne Pass and the Young Lakes. 
One year, I forget, we got stuck out in the first snowstorm of 
the season in October. We had to get out very fast so nobody got 
stuck. Went all the way from Young Lakes to Yosemite 

V. Adams: That's a long way. That's a hard day. 

Adams: We were a tired bunch of animals and people. It was terrible. 

That was more than twenty-eight miles. And the first four or five 
miles was through about a foot of fresh snow. And we were scared 
to death, because if the snow got too deep, the animals would 
flounder in it, and we'd be taking everything off and junking it 
and trying to see how far we could take the animals without any 
thing in their packs. 

And on another trip we went over Isberg Pass to the Minarets, 
and all around the Minarets, Mount Ritter, Iron Mountain, and Koip 
Pass. In fact, we were often out of the park, in national forest 
areas, but never got to the southern Sierras, never went below 
Minaret Summit. 

Ted Organ: Were you on the first ascent of any of those peaks? 

Adams: Oh, I climbed one of the Minarets but I don't think it was an 
important climb. 

V. Adams: That was before people did formal climbing. 

Ansel bringing in the biscuits." 
Camp on summit of Cooper Pass, 
California, 1926. Sierra Club 

Left to right: Admiral Charles 
Fremont Pond, Helen LeConte, 
May Isabel Wocker, May Elizabeth 
Plehn, Ansel Adams, four donkeys, 

Photograph by J. Malcolm G^eany 
Ansel Adams, Juneau, Alaska, 1947 

Photograph by Christine L. Reid 

Ansel Adams, guest speaker, 
Annual meeting of the Friends 
of The Bancroft Library, 
May 14, 1967. 


AdaEs: I've got my name in a number of registers. At first there was no 
record kept; I can't believe that people hadn't climbed a lot, 
especially the shepherds. They were in the country for months at 
a time. And all the packers, they thought we were just crazy to 
walk. The people would go along the trail riding horses. They 
were called "horse muckers." The real elite was the campers, going 
along with the donkeys, walking. 

V. Adams : What were you? 

Adams: I was the elite. I was just walking on the ground and had a 

donkey or a mule for my outfit. But the ones who rode, with guides 
and things, they were "intruders" [laughs] and "softies." 

We climbed all kinds of things. We had a very dangerous 
ascent of the gorge east of Lake Washburn. And our technique was 
just scrambling we had a World War I trench pick, and long window 
sash cords you know, the kind that hold up the weights in windows 
which at that time were the strongest material available. We'd 
just tie ourselves together with those and climb together.' Of 
course, if you ever fell on it, you would just cut yourself right 
in two; they were only about one-eighth of an inch thick! We had 
no knowledge of climbing and we came so close to disaster so many 
times, I'd hate to tell you. 

And the worst of all was the gorge in the southeast end of 
Lake Washburn. It's just a fault line on a cliff leading up to a 
little lake at the top (it's about sixteen hundred to eighteen 
hundred feet long). Holman said, "There's a couple of small chock 
stones in there." Chock stones are stones that have fallen down 
and wedged in the gorge, which was about 70 to 80 steep. 

So we started out on a real scramble. We didn't think anything 
of it at all; at first I could just go all day long climbing. I 
guess it was kind of a tough place, and we came upon the first 
chock stone. And there was no way of getting under it, so we had to 
go up the face of the gorge wall. The top of the face of the wall 
in that case was about as high as this ceiling, sixteen feet. But 
at this angle, if you let go, you'd go down about two hundred feet. 
Looking down was a bit distracting. 

We got over that, and I began to tremble; "How do we get back?" 
Because, you know, climbing is one thing, and getting down is 
another. And then there was another chock stone and a bigger one. 
Mr. Holman said, "Well, we can't go back, we've got to go on." So 
we had to start climbing this wall again, and it was really pretty 
dangerous this time. And of course, no one had an idea of how to 
belay and protect yourself. 


Adams: I'd get ahead (I was a little more agile), and then I'd sort of 

help pull Mr. Holman up, but if he fell I couldn't have held him. 
We got up over that difficulty and thought we were almost up, and 
then there was another chock stone, and this was the big one. And 
that vertical wall was something! It was about one hundred feet 
high straight up! 

And we got over that, and we knew there weren't any more, 
because we could see the top. But talk about being scared! The 
feeling of being trapped at a late hour, and no place to lie down; 
it was so steep it was hard even to sit. 

V. Adams: Where were you? 

Adams: This gorge east of Lake Washburn. 

We finally came out on top. Glory Hallelujah! We decided we 
wouldn't do anything like that again without knowing what we were 
getting into. 

Of course, there wouldn't be anything to it today. I mean, 
you would protect against exposure. If you couldn't give a person 
a safe body belay, you'd drive in a piton and secure the rope 

V. Adams: They didn't have equipment then. 

Adams: Nobody knew anything about real climbing in those days. 

Teiser: Who was Mr. Holman? 

Adams: Frank [Francis] Holman was a mining engineer who lost an eye at the 
age of twelve, and he had, with his one very sharp eagle eye, 
remarkable vision. He'd been in South America, and I guess he'd 
done pretty well for himself. He was an old bachelor. He could be 
very crusty. But a very distinguished man. 

V. Adams: How did you and he get together? 

Adams: I think it was through Bessie Pond. 

V. Adams: He wasn't at LeConte Memorial first? 

Adams : Oh no . 

V. Adams: You took that together? 

Adams: I took that myself first for several years, and he came and stayed 
with me. 


V. Adams: 

V. Adams: 

Adams : 

V. Adams 
Adams : 
V. Adams: 

Adams : 
V. Adams: 

Adams : 


LeConte Memorial. He had his quarters there in summer. 

And then, I forget where he'd spend the winters. 

And then my aunt, my father's brother's second wife, met him; 
she was a professional nurse. And they became companions. 

She'd read to him and write his letters because he couldn't see too 
well to write. 

This was after his strenuous climbing days. His eye was giving out. 

So I was taking care of LeConte Memorial for several years, and 
then he joined with me, and finally he and my aunt said they'd take 
it over. Then I went with the LeConte family for two summers or was 
it three? to the southern Sierra. 

They could camp behind the lodge at that time 

Oh yes, we had a nice little camp there. 

They allowed it at that time, to camp right behind the lodge, behind 
LeConte Memorial. Now you can't. 

We had a regular camp set up: kitchen, camp stove, 
the donkey out in Stoneman Meadow. 

We would stake 

Finally they even got to taking a cook out with them, Aunt Beth 
[Adams] and Mr. Holman. They'd come down here to Carmel for the 
winter, and they'd take a house that had two wings. They each had 
to live their own lives, and yet she was a good companion to him. 

We took her on trips. One night up at Triple Creek Fork, the 
coyotes let loose. She came over from the designated women's camp, 
which was about (very properly) three hundred feet away, about 
midnight. It was moonlit and these coyotes were just going strong! 
And she said, "I don't care, but I am going to move in with you 
men. I'm scared." [Laughter] 

Then we lost the donkey. The donkey ran down Triple Creek and 
away home, and they can run faster than we can if they want to run, 
and Mr. Holman had a marvelous string of repetitive profanity. The 
whole canyon ringing with a combination of entreaties to the 
donkey and consignments of the donkey to inconceivable areas. 


Adams: Once the donkey got stuck on a steep cliff; we had an awful time 
getting it out of trouble. Tied it to a belay with a hack rope, 
and it fell down several times. It was belayed by the wall. We'd 
get it to its feet, and it would scramble along the very steep 

Now there's a trail indicated there. But that was a really 
tough place to get up with an animal. Of course, I'd take every 
thing off the animal and carry things up. The work we did was just 
tremendous just sheer physical toil. 

Perils and Close Calls 

Adams: For instance, we'd climb Red, Gray, and Mount Clark in one day. We'd 
leave camp about four- thirty in the morning. Those are three peaks 
in the Merced Group. That was a pretty strenuous deal, you know. 
Lost the camp (many people lost Illilouette Valley) , found it about 
ten o'clock at night! 

That's the time we had the fall on Red Peak. We were going up 
with the old ice pick and the window sash cords, chopping little 
steps. It was frozen snow, it wasn't ice, and about a thousand 
steep feet of it. About eight hundred feet up, I slipped. And of 
course I started to slide it was about 60 to 70 steep pulled 
Mr. Holman off his feet, and we both went down. He was yelling, 
"Keep your feet front front! Don't roll!" And finally we got 
down. We were sliding face-down, and if you just touched your hands 
to the frozen snow it would take the skin off. We were really going 
awfully fast. And there was a whole lot of rock and snow piled at 
the bottom, and we went right through that but missed all the rocks! 
Mr. Holman sort of sat there and rubbed the snow out of his eyes and 
said, "Well, we'll go right up again." That was the best philosophy. 
So back we went. 

Then we came down the Red Peak ridge, and kept on the 
connecting ridge, and up to Gray Peak and down that connecting ridge, 
over to Mount Clark. Mount Clark was very steep stone and snow on 
the eastern side. And the top of it was a little broken crag. It's 
one of the great Yosemite mountains. When we got down to the base 
of Mount Clark, we came out three miles below camp, which was worse 
because we had to go uphill up the trail to get to our camp. And 
everything looks alike in that place in the lodge pole forest. 

So, let's see. What else did Mr. Holman and I do? Well, we 
climbed everything around Yosemite. He was a great ornithologist. 
One harrowing experience was in the Lyell Fork of the Merced. He 


Adams: had a little collector's gun. He just hated to shoot birds, but the 
Academy of Sciences gave him this commission for collecting. And he 
had a can of arsenic salts with which to cure the skins. We would 
shoot a bird and feel very sad about it. He would very carefully 
skin it, and save all the feathers and everything, and then rub the 
inside of the skin with the arsenic salt. And then wrap it all up 
in some material so that it wouldn't dry out. He kept the arsenic 
in a large salt shaker. 

Well, one night at a campfire, we were frying some fish or hash 
and it was quite dark. I got hold of this salt shaker, you see, and 
I put some salt on the fish. And at that time, he threw some twigs 
on the fire and the fire came up, and I said, "This is funny. The 
salt looks green." I'd gotten hold of the arsenic, and I've never 
seen anybody so disturbed as Frank Holman! He just took that 
arsenic and hid it . But that shows how easy it is to have something 
happen to you. He just had it in a salt shaker and, oh my! 

V. Adams: Like the time that you were at Merced Lake and you had a tummy ache. 

Adams: If I'd known it was an appendicitis, I would have died of fright. 
I was in terrible pain. Drank a whole bucket of water, all alone. 
A storm was coming up. I was not expected back for four days. I'd 
been up to Isberg Pass and Isberg Peak, came late to the camp, went 
down to get some water at the river, and it was just like a knife 
sticking in me. I thought, "Oh, ptomaine poisoning." I felt terrible, 
you know. All of a sudden. I'd eaten nothing but grape nuts and a 
can of condensed milk. I was on the simplest possible diet. I had 
this fever coming on, and this pain, and the only thing I could think 
of to do was to drink water. So I just got a bucket of water and 
went up to our lean-to and just lay there and drank; all instinctive 
ly. And then about midnight the fever broke, and I was drenched, 
and it was thundering outside and the lean-to was leaking. I was so 
weak for a day, I could barely move around. I tried to get home but 
could not manage it. 

V. Adams: You said you went to the river and the bridge was under water. 

Adams: Yes, the log we used to get over the river was under water for eight 
days. I never would have made it home. That was for certain. So 
I had the good sense not to get panicked, and spent the night, and 
that's when I drank the water. 

Then the next day I just realized, "Well, I'm all right. 
There's no more pain." The day after, I returned to Yosemite. 
was what I got at Taos in 1930. 

V. Adams: When you knew it was appendicitis. 



Adams: I got exactly the same thing in the morning terrible pains. And 
the doctor came and put an ice pack on me and took me off to 
Albuquerque for an operation. But I know if I had known in Yosemite 
it was appendicitis, I'd have simply died of fright. 

Of course, the other tragic thing was, say, if I'd had a pill; 
say I'd taken a cascara or something, that might have killed me. So 
they'd come up and find me dead of natural causes in a wet lean-to. 

Teiser: Did you often go out alone? 
Adams: Oh yes. That was very bad to do. 

V. Adams: They didn't really talk about that as much as they do now; people 
are prepared now. 

Adams: You always tell people where you're going. But I just told my aunt, 
"I'm going to Merced Lake. I'm going to try to climb Mount Clark, 
and I'll be back in three days." Well, I got so enthusiastic. Met 
some trail workers, and I asked them if they'd tell my aunt that 
I'm going to stay two more days. I went up Isberg Pass. So if I 
had not shown up people would have come for me. They would have 
probably given me a day's leeway and then called the rangers or 
something. But how do you know where anybody is? You just go to 
Merced Lake country and start climbing. My God. You never could 
find anybody, unless they were yelling or had built a fire or made 
smoke in daytime. 

So now we go off on well-known routes. I wouldn't mind taking 
a trip specifically to Half Dome alone, if I could describe where I 
was going pinpoint it. Remember that time with the Sierra Club 
when I said I was going to the Second Recess of Mono Creek? (There's 
four canyons called the Mono Recesses.) I was going up the Second 
Recess and cross over and come down the First Recess. And take my 
camera, of course. I promised I wouldn't go anywhere else. The 
only thing I forgot was I hadn't looked carefully at the map; the 
Second Recess was twice as long as the first one. So I thought I 
climbed awfully high, and I got over a pass and went down about two 
thousand feet and looked up. And there was the Seven Gables 
mountains to the south and I realized what I'd done I'd crossed 
the whole divide. I'd gone over the main divide, you see. It's 
just like having two canyons; instead of crossing over into the 
First Recess, I went all the way up the Second Recess a real 
struggle! And the last bit of it was something terrible. I had a 
bad time getting back to camp tried one "draw" after another 
because of cliffs on the other side. I never did get to the First 
Recess. I got back to the Second Recess, because the First Recess 
was too far to the west. 


Adams: I got home about midnight, very sheepish. Because I'd given people 
a lecture on doing exactly what you said you'd do, you see. And of 
course I hadn't used my brain; I'd done exactly the opposite. I'd 
gone out of the proper canyon and there again, if anything had 
happened, nobody would have found me. They would have gone up and 
looked at the map and crossed over and looked all around that area, 
which I never was in! I was at least five to eight miles off my 
stated route! 

V. Adams: It wasn't your fate to die in the mountains. 

Adams: No. And I nearly fell off several things. The time the piton came 
out when I practiced climbing at Benson Lake. 

V. Adams: Yes. That was one of the worst things. 

Adams: They had a rock climbing practice, and Glen Dawson was holding the 

rope down in the meadow. It was a very long rope a light rope that 
went through a piton. It was set between a great big rock, twice 
as big as this table, laying against the cliff on a ledge. They'd 
driven this big piton between the cliff and rock all the way. The 
rope ran through it. People would climb and get up fifty or eighty 
feet and then give up and be eased down on the rope. 

V. Adams: Everybody was learning from it. 

Adams: And they'd fall on the rope, you see, and the man in the meadow 
would hold them; then they'd slide down or start over again. 

Well, it was about two hundred feet 180 feet high, I guess, 
with a lot of sharp rocks at the bottom. And I failed it. I 
couldn't do it twice. I asked Glen Dawson if he would hold the rope 
once more. I just felt I couldn't let this thing beat me. Then I 
got up nearly to the top, and I was terribly tired, and I rested by 
leaning forward on the ledge. It was an all vertical climb. As I 
leaned my weight on my arm, I heard a tinkle and a sliding sound, 
and down comes the piton with the rope. And the rope catches over 
a point and sticks. If the rope had fallen it would have dragged me 
off, because it was pretty heavy, you know a hundred feet or more 
of rope. Here I was completely without any support. One's reactions 
are all automatic. I got up to the ledge by just sheer clawing at 
the rock, and held up the piton that had come out. 

And I'll never forget Glen's face. It was dusk. He just turned 
white. This little figure down there with this white face. I still 
remember that . 

Well, then they had to send somebody up high and around and let 
a rope down to me two hundred feet or so, quite a bit. And then 
belay it with a fresh piton so we could get down. That was a close 


Teiser: Glen Dawson the bookseller? 

Adams: Yes. What happened was, everybody falling on the rope had levered 
this rock a little, widening this crack just enough so that when 
I took my weight off the rope (the crack being at a slant) the 
piton just fell out. 

Sierra Club Trips 

V. Adams: Wasn't that the same trip where somebody a girl was drowned, 
and we kept trying with the short-wave radio, which was a new 
thing to carry along, to get to the rangers? 

Adams: Yes. She fell in Benson Lake. Oh, we had a lot of accidents. 
I remember two fatal and two bad falling near-fatalities, and 
plenty of heart attacks, intestinal obstructions and double 
pneumonia, etc. 

V. Adams: That belongs in Sierra Club history. 

Adams: We always had a doctor. We always brought an intern along as a 
camp doctor, but then we had some very fine practitioners who 
were guests, and of course in an emergency they'd come out and 
help Dr. Walter Alvarez and Dr. Herbert Evans, for example. 

I remember one time, a man was climbing, and put his hand up, 
and somebody was up ahead. That's very bad too, to climb too close 
ahead. He loosened this rock, and it came down and hit him right 
in the hand, literally went through his hand broke everything. 
So this poor guy we had to get him down to camp. 

The intern was really having a fit. He was just a medical 
student, he wasn't even an intern. And the nurse said, "Well, 
just get hot saline water and keep it wrapped in it." They had 
to tell him to get out as quick as he could and apply these 
compresses constantly. In those days, you know, they didn't have 
penicillin or anything. 

V. Adams: The packers would take them out. 

Adams: They'd strap them on the saddle and lead them out, and they'd 
have to go many miles. 

V. Adams: They'd have to go to Lone Pine or to Sequoia National Park. 


Adams: But this man kept the use of his hand. They had to practically 
rebuild that hand. It just shows you what can happen. Now, if 
you were alone, or it was just a small part, you can imagine what 
might happen. 

Well , they did have that awful thing years ago in the Palisade 
basin, where a woman was climbing the North Palisade. While in the 
talus, one of those huge rocks rolled over and caught her, right 
on the pelvic area and broke both pelvic bones. So they had to 
improvise a stretcher and carried her with great difficulty more 
than three miles above timber line to the trail. It was the 
roughest possible terrain. She was pretty well crippled for life. 
I remember Mr. [William E. ] Colby telling me that. It took five 
days in all to get her to the Owens Valley. 

Then a woman had a heart attack when we were near Ralph 
Merritt's camp. The woman knew she had a heart condition and 
asked the packer if he thought she'd get along all right. Well, 
how did he know? He wasn't any doctor. We had horses anyway. 
I forget what it was some form of heart failure. She got up to 
Sphinx Pass and practically passed out from the attack. She was 
six weeks in Ralph Merritt's camp, and finally the doctors came in 
and said, "Well, I think we can take you out now." And it was a 
two thousand foot climb back over Sphinx Pass. When she got there 
(with less oxygen) she expired right on top of the pass. 

V. Adams: You know what I remember about that is that all of these young 
husky boys who were part of a rescue group, in groups of four 
carrying the litter down the slope, and they'd change take-over 
after a little while, carrying her down. She'd had six weeks or 
four weeks or however long it was down at that camp in the flat- 
lands, but those boys just worked like mad to get her there and 
also to get her out. It was just so sad, because everybody tried 
so hard, and then when the final thing happened, it wasn't any 
good after all. 

Adams: I don't want to give the impression that we had nothing but 
disaster, but 

V. Adams: No. We had lots of wonderful things. 

Adams: Always things may happen in an outing of one hundred or two 
hundred people. 

V. Adams: People have gone on long trips and nothing has happened. 

Adams: But I think we well, we had that case of old Mr. Padway, who 
saved up for several years for this big vacation. He was some 
kind of a specialist and couldn't get away from work, and finally 


Adams: he did and this was a four-weeks vacation. We were up at Milestone 
Camp, which is over eleven thousand feet, and he had this very bad 
cold; it was freezing, and the camp doctor didn't like the way he 
sounded. I think Dr. Alvarez came to see him, and they got 
another doctor and they listened, and then they came over to see 
us. They said, "He's got pneumonia, and if you don't get him out 
of here, he'll be dead in twelve hours because of this altitude." 
(Low oxygen.) They said, "It's very important. You'll have to 
get him out some way." Of course, that was before helicopters. 

So [Clair S.] Tappaan and I went to him and said, "Well, Mr. 
Padway, we're really sorry, but the doctors have ordered you out 
and we'll have to make arrangements right now to bundle you up and 
get you on a horse." 

"What! I've got nothing but a bad cold. I'll be over this 
in a day or so." (Cough, cough) 

"Well," we said, "the doctors don't say that. They said you 
have pneumonia. " 

He said, "I refuse to believe it, and you'll have to order me 

We said, "Well, we'll have to send you out." 
He said, "If you do that, I'll sue you." 

Tap was a lawyer, so I said, "Well?" We went back to the 
doctors and told them. They said, "We'll give you an affidavit. 
If you don't get him out of here, in eight hours he'll be dead." 

So we got him to Fresno, and he just barely made it. And his 
letter of apology was touching, because he felt that he caused all 
this trouble. They did save his life, and our insistence was 
important. But he never realized it at the time. He didn't want 
to realize it. It would spoil his trip. 

V. Adams: There was one treck I wasn't on this trip when you went across 

country and it was very high and very cold, and a couple of people 
nearly didn't make it. The altitude and the whole thing got them. 
But outside of that, when you think one hundred people go every 
summer on these trips for forty years and most of them do 

Adams: Well, it's not a compensation, you see. Your oxygen supply goes 
down. In Yosemite you have three-quarters normal, I think, and 
you get up to Glacier Point eight thousand or nine thousand, 
somewhere in there you only have about half. No, it's more 
nearly ten thousand that you have half. And it diminishes as 
altitude increases. 


Adams: Well, I can compensate very quickly, because I'm always going from 
high to low altitudes. But for some people it takes several days. 
And this mountain sickness is just sort of a breakdown of body 
functions, because there just isn't really enough oxygen for them. 
Everything is knocked out of sync. The heart has an automatic 
trigger device, and if it works too hard, it automatically just 
slows up, or may temporarily fail. It doesn't mean there's 
definite damage. But you can have some awful symptoms. People 
have passed out absolutely cold and go into what appears to be a 
deep faint. And only a doctor can tell whether it's a state of 
shock or not. 

Teiser: What was your position on those trips? 

Adams: I was after 1930 the assistant manager. I went first in 1923 for 
a week, and then didn't go again until 1927. And 1927 I was the 
photographer, and I was taken along to make pictures. That was in 
the Sequoia National Park area, the High Sierra back country. In 
1928 we went to Canada. I was the photographer and helped, and 
Mr. Colby was the leader. In 1929 I didn't go anywhere. They 
went to Yellowstone, I think. In 1930 I was back assisting Clair 
Tappaan as manager. I was in charge of personnel, mountain 
climbing, and lost and found, and morals committee. [Laughter] 

So, that was my job, and it really was something, because I'd 
be up very early in the morning, and I'd try to make some 
photographs, and I'd have to see that people got off and their 
bags were ready to pack. Then I would have to go ahead, at a 
rather fast rate, to pick out the campsites and the commissary 
location and the latrines. And I'd always divide up the camps 
men, women, married couples try to figure it out logically. I'd 
get that done. Then I'd go off and try to make some photographs. 
Of course, I did many on the trail, too. Then in the evening I 
had to conduct the campfire and run the lost and found. And of 
course the lost and found could be serious, because somebody would 
leave something like his watch or a pill you know, you don't have 
much of un-importance when you're out in the wilderness. We'd 
have a bag, and some of the things we'd find in it were surprising! 
Glasses, prescription bottle, a toothbrush, etc., etc. 

I can report now that the worst hike I ever had was when we 
left Woods Creek and went to Rae Lake. We were going to camp at 
Rae Lake and go over Glen Pass to Center Basin the next day. I 
had a very nice Dagor lens. It was what we call a convertible 
symmetrical lens. In other words, you could unscrew the front 
element or the back element and get one and a half or twice the 
size of the full-lens image. It was really three lenses in one. 
I'd taken a picture in Woods Creek Camp, leaving camp in the 
morning in the usual hurry. When I got to Rae Lake, I realized 


Adams: I'd left the back of the lens on a rock at Woods Creek, and I 

could see in my mind's eye just where that lens was. Of course 
animals could have nudged it off or got it but my whole 
photography depended on this lens (it was the only one I had on 
the trip). So after dinner I said I had to go back the twelve 
miles. So I hiked down there as fast as I could, with a flash 
light, and by gosh, there was the rock and there was the lens. 
And I ate some hardtack and a piece of chocolate, and I came back 
the twelve miles to Rae Lake. That made it thirty-six miles for 
that day. 

But I got back in the morning after the camp was broken up 
gone. So I had this climb of nearly twelve thousand feet over 
Glen Pass to Center Basin, which was about fourteen miles down. 
So I had walked a total of about fifty miles! 

And all I can say is I'm glad they didn't move camp the next 
day. But those were the days when I could do such things. I 
could have done another ten miles. I was just terribly tired and 
footsore. But I used to time myself walking. Even with a pack, 
on the level I could go almost five miles an hour. Usually on a 
long trip, I used to keep to about four. Mr. Colby had a wonderful 
system of starting in the morning at a very slow pace, and the 
people with him would get exasperated because old Will would plod 
along. Then he'd get plodding a little faster, you see. And he'd 
never stop; he'd just go all day long. And all the guys would be 
dashing ahead the young squirts, you know, racing for the next 
camp. And we'd pass them lying down on the ground, gasping. And 
Colby, at sixty-something, was still plodding along, with a nice, 
good-sized pack. [Laughter] It's a matter of just accommodating 
and working into a pattern. 

Yosemite, Continued 

Adams: Well, I think now we've skipped away from Yosemite. Now, the 
early days in Yosemite are associated for me with the LeConte 
Memorial. They had just moved it from the Camp Curry area. It 
used to be called the Lodge. Lodge was the wrong description. 
I mean nobody ever slept in it. Well, they did, but it wasn't 
supposed to be for that purpose. It was first in the Camp Curry 
area, and when they expanded Curry they found that this building 
would be right in the middle of it. So they offered to rebuild 
the Memorial for the Sierra Club in a near location to the west. 

Mr. Colby and a few others came up and picked the site, where 
it is now, where you got a beautiful view up to Tenaya Canyon. The 
trees in front were ten to fifteen feet high. They were young 


Adams : 





cedars and pines. You'd look over this very small growth and 
see the whole vista of Washington Column, Tenaya Canyon and Half 
Dome. It was a grand view. 

Now the trees are nearly a hundred feet high, and you can't 
see anything at all. It just shows how things grow and change 
in time. They always had a "custodian." There were a few dried 
plants and a few books and information available. 

How old were you when you became custodian? 

I'm always two years behind the century. That would be 1919 when 
I was at the Lodge alone. I'd take people out on trips. 

That was a lot of responsibility for a young man. 

Yes, that's true. Then, after that, Aunt Beth and Uncle Frank 
joined me. I climbed around a lot. 

Did you always carry cameras with you? 

Oh, almost all of my trips. Usually a 6 1/2 by 8 1/2 or a four 
by five fairly simple. But my pack would be about fifty pounds. 
I also carried my tripod, and a good tripod weighs about ten 
pounds. And then there were the lenses and the film holders and 
the accessories, and lunch. A notebook and maybe a brass cylinder 
for a mountain-top register, the Sierra Club register. 

I remember bringing down the early records of Clarence King 
from Mount Clark after putting up a new register. And somebody 
stole that record that was priceless; the first notes of King. 
I had them at the LeConte Lodge in an envelope, clearly indicating 
that they were important records, and I was going to send them to 
San Francisco. And one day I found they were gone! 

[End Tape 9, Side 2] 
[Begin Tape 10, Side 1] 

Well, to go back to the Clarence King episode. Mount Clark used 
to be called Gothic Peak, which is a better name for it. It's 
a triple glacial cirque. It's unique, and a very handsome mountain. 
Clarence King's description of his ascent of Mount Clark is very 
harrowing. Nobody 'd been able to find the place he made his 
famous "jump." I went all over the summit area, hanging down on 
ropes and trying to find the place. We say now there was 
probably a rock slide that's obliterated it. But everybody in 
those days could really exaggerate their experiences. The 
painters did and the writers did and the explorers did; it was 
always a great wild wilderness hard to check up on! 


Adams: The place that he described, in considerable detail, where he 
makes his "leap over the abyss" it might have been big enough 
to kill him if he fell. I mean, you don't have to fall very far 
on granite. Well anyway, up at the top he had left this lead 
container in pretty bad shape and in that were his original 
geologic survey records with the altitude readings, his signature, 
and date, time of day all such stuff. And then some other 
climbers left some notes after that. I replaced those with the 
new Sierra Club register, which was a brass tube with a sealed 
wing lock cap on it. In the scroll was the name of who placed it 
there, the date, the time, notes of any predecessors, etc., and 
then people sign it to record their climbs. I guess that's still 
up there, although I suppose vandals might have taken it! 

The register really has value only on a very remote, 
difficult mountain. I imagine Mount Clark has been climbed 
hundreds of times. But at that time, in the 1920s, relatively 
few people had made the ascent. 

The idea of true wilderness today is inconceivable. When 
you were out there in the earlier days, you were completely out 
of touch. Now you have search planes, radios, and helicopters. 

Teiser: Those records were never returned? 

Adams: No. Somebody who knew something about them took them, I'm sure. 

I recognized how valuable they were; valuable in a mountaineering- 
historical sense. 

Then Hall McAllister gave the cableway on Half Dome. The 
cableway was two posts set in the rock about every fifteen feet 
with steel cables threaded through them. You just walked up 
between the cables. I attached the Crosby clamps to the first 

Photography Workshops and Aspiring Amateurs 

Teiser: We wanted to ask you to discuss your workshops. 

Adams: One of the most important things about a workshop, apart from its 
location, is the fact that in my philosophy it is directed to the 
individual photographer maintaining his individuality. Trying to 
find out what he has to say about what he sees, so that he is not 
dominated by any school or any instructor or any philosophy. 

I think I described to you that in studying music, all my 
really effective teachers never played a note for me. And there 
was only this one teacher in Berkeley who taught with two pianos, 




Adams : 


Adams : 

and by illustrating phrases and saying, "No, it's this way," and 
me echoing her. In a few weeks my father recognized the difference, 
He said, "It doesn't sound like you." Now, that was a great 
revelation. You suddenly realize that you must build something of 
yourself. Then you can resist somebody coming along and saying, 
"Now, this is the way you do it." Technically it may be another 
thing; you may have to say: this is the way you expose and 
develop to get a certain result. But the result is yours . 

When it comes to saying, "You have to make a photograph with 
this feeling," or we have to phrase something in music with a 
particular style, that can be quite disastrous unless a person is 
a strong individualist. And part of the success of the whole 
"group" piano teachers, music teachers, was really developing 
people on an imitative basis. I suppose they were honest about 
it, with the hope that they'd develop the individuality later. 
But there's something about the individual's development of style 
and phrasing and touch that's so precious. You just can't 
dominate it, you see. So I was extremely fortunate in the 
opportunity to be myself. 

And that's why I want to impart that same concept in 
photography. I want to give students a basic technique which will 
liberate them to the utmost degree to get what they "see," and get 
what they want . What they see and what they want to photograph 
and what they want the photograph to look like that's their 
business. But knowing something of the scientific, practical, 
technically oriented approach will enhance their capacity to 
understand and express themselves. 

It must be difficult, when a group of students comes in, like the 
other Sunday, and you really didn't know them. 

Well, they were pretty bad. That was a very weak group. 

But you didn't even know if the one who had what he presented as 
beautiful sunsets really liked to photograph those. His 
objectives had not narrowed down; you couldn't even perceive what 
he was trying to do. 

You can't do that. You either have to say, "I'm a psychiatrist, 
and you'll come to my couch for so many dollars an hour over a 
period of six months," or you admit, frankly, just an intuitive 
reaction. And I usually tell them that. 

I had a man here the other day who was an engineer and wanted 
to get into photography. And, oh boy, he'd really worked out a 
lot of good mechanics. But he absolutely didn't have any "eye." 
All I could do was to say, "Look, you're seeing all this stuff. 


Adams : 



It's like carrying rocks in a knapsack. You don't have to." 
There was all this dead space. Then you bring the "L" cards in 
and you show him how, when you bring a piece of grass in the 
image up to the edge, the grass suddenly becomes significant in 
relation to the whole thing. He says, "I never saw that. I 
never thought of that." I say, "You have to look for it. I mean, 
that's part of seeing and feeling." It's a very subtle and very 
complicated thing! 

Do you sometimes discourage people who you think really would be 

Oh yes. I don't try to tell them they're no good and bums and 
everything. Well, I just say to them, "You have a long ways to 
go. And you haven't got your techniques, and you're really not 
expressing anything. And you just better either get off the dime 
and do something " Sometimes it's that. But most of the time 
it's some very gifted person who thinks he wants to go into 
photography, and then you try to pick out for him all of the 
pitfalls of the so-called professional world. 

You may work five days a week in a professional studio and 
get fed up with the most commonplace, dull assignments. At the 
end of that week, believe me, you'd rather go bowling than work 
further with the camera. You'd be tired. Whereas, if you're a 
lawyer or an engineer or a bootblack or anything, you build up 
this creative tension. Many of the great photographers in the 
world have been amateurs. 

I try to point out how difficult it is to break into 
photography. "Well," they say, "but you sell prints." 

"Yes," I say, "I've been doing it for forty years." 

There.'s a little difference. I mean, I sell a great many 
prints. But twenty-five years ago I didn't sell a great many 
prints. I was scratching pretty hard. I say, "You just can't 
go out and sell prints. You could get an agent. You could get 
a publicity man. You might suddenly emerge as a shooting star 
and it would be wonderful, but the chances are against that." 
But the people that you see that you instinctively know have 
absolutely no taste, no knowledge, no perception, sensitivity 
they might be fine people and really good in many other ways, but 
not in photography. 

Just like music. You've heard people play the piano and 
you wish to gosh they'd go and start fishing or something. Yet 
they may be playing accurately, but their whole tone construction, 
their whole pattern of phrasing and shaping, is all off, and it's 
an agonizing thing to hear. [Interruption] 


Joseph N. LeConte in the Sierra 

Adams : 


Adams : 

Up in Yosemite in the earlier days, I was not conscious of being 
a photographer at all. I was just making photographs. But the 
difference between someone like LeConte and myself was that I was 
expressing my feelings. And while he had very intense feelings 
about the mountains he really loved them he was content to 
express the factual, scientific, topographic features. I mean, 
as a scientist. These things are fully documented in his 

But photography, being a language, admits poetry. Th 
no good grounds of comparison there; both are separate and 
important . 


There were two or three years when you went on trips with the 
LeConte family; was he an accomplished mountaineer? 

Oh yes, in relation to the period. He was a climber, but he 
never took chances. He wasn't a rock climber. They didn't 
exist then. 

We made many ascents. We climbed the Agassiz Needle, we 
climbed the Goat Mountain lots of peaks that are commonplace 
climbing now, but we did them with excitement then. He was the 
one that explored the Kings River Sierra. It seemed that quite 
a number of years ago, the State employed a topographer I forget 
what you'd call them a cartographer a surveyor, I guess, to 
prepare a map of the southern Sierra Nevada. It was about 1880, 
I think. And this man got to the top of the Granite Divide and 
took one look north into the middle fork of the Kings and beyond, 
and just started sketching in. And the maps were quite wrong. 
The sheepherders and the cattlemen knew this didn't jibe with 
anything they had experienced . 

So, LeConte and his friends who loved mountains went up and 
down what is now the John Muir Trail I don't know how many times. 
And they had to haul animals over cliffs with block and tackle. 
People like the Duncan McDuffies, the Charlie Nobles (the 
mathematics professor) really a very elite group of people. 
Theodore Solomons was sort of a "parallel" figure, but not one 
of the group. 

So LeConte decided he was really going to map this region 
properly. And of course, being a scientist-surveyor, he had all 
the techniques. So he produced the first functioning maps, which 
were not really accurate, as he said they might be off a half a 
mile. But at least we know the North Fork of the Kings exists, 


Adams: and we know that the Middle Fork of the Kings goes all the way 
up LeConte Canyon to Mount Goddard, and Goddard Creek doesn't 
flow north and so on. All kinds of terrible mistakes were made 
on those earlier maps. 

So he drew up the whole complex of the Kings-Kern region, 
triangulated it, and did what remains an extremely creditable job, 
although with no presumption of being really accurate, because he 
didn't have the equipment. But he was within, I would say, half 
a mile; that's what people who know told me. His maps were very 
rewarding and useful. 

I don't think his wife, Helen Gompertz, went on too many of 
those big trips. I think they were married after most of them. 
But they went to Yosemite. And of course the senior LeConte 
[Joseph LeConte] was with them in 1901, and he died there. The 
LeConte Memorial is dedicated to him. 

And then later on, in the late twenties and early thirties, 
Mrs. [Joseph N.] LeConte wasn't very well, and they would go to 
Porcupine Flat. It was a place near the Tioga Road, a very 
delightful campsite, and she'd rest. I remember in 1923 they 
were at Porcupine Flat, because that's the time of the big 
Berkeley fire. And I received word of this fire and went to 
Porcupine Flat to let the LeContes know that the house had been 
saved but the roof was slightly damaged. 

I left the Memorial in Yosemite. In those days, for hikers 
everything was "shortcuts." I remember climbing right out of 
Indian Canyon and making a bee-line to Porcupine Flat. I was 
wearing a straw hat, and I had gone through brush and forest 
not paying any attention to the trail. This was almost a straight 
line. And when I arrived at the camp I had a baby robin in the 
top of my straw hat I I think a few of the people thought I was 
nuts and that I had done this on purpose, but I was the most 
surprised person of all. [Laughter] Mrs. LeConte nourished this 
bird for two or three weeks, and finally it flew off.* I'd gone 
through a tree, you see, and knocked the bird out of its nest. 

I told them about the fire, and that it was nothing to 
worry about, but they should know about it. But it was something 
to worry about. So they debated whether they should go home, and 
I said, "Well, I didn't think so. The information was that the 
house was all right. The roof had been burned a little and singed- 
no damage." 

*For another version of this story, see Helen M. LeConte, 
Reminiscences , op. cit . , p. 69. 


Adams: They gave me a message to telephone to somebody to go and look 
at it. This was the house on Hillside Court in Berkeley. So I 
stayed with them a day or so. They used to climb Mount Hoffman, 
climb out on the top of Mount Watkins and look down on Yosemite. 
It was a kind of an intimate life. They'd always give me a 
little libation before dinner. Really, they were delightfully 
drinking people. Never too much. 

Teiser: This was during Prohibition 

Adams: Oh yes 

Teiser: Did they make their own wine? 

Adams: Oh no, they just had bottles of booze, like everybody else did. 

(The whole thing was a farce.) It was usually bourbon. And we'd 
all get together before the campfire in the evening, before 
dinner, and they'd give these toasts these little Scotch or 
Southern toasts. You know, like, "Here's tae [sic] us. Wha's 
like us? Dahmn few. Thank God." (I can't pronounce it.) These 
toasts would go back and forth. [Laughter] And the other one is, 
"I lifts my glass. I has your eye. I winks accordin'. I likewise 
bows." [Laughter] 

And they'd always have this ceremony. And they'd have guests 
all the time, and they'd have these wonderful campfire dinners to 
gether. It was a really great experience! 

And Joe always had the camera and was always making records . 
And of course he just exposed and developed empirically. You do 
the best you can under the circumstances. I later made albums 
of prints for the Sierra Club of his Hetch-Hetchy pictures, and 
while they don't say much emotionally, they are simply an 
amazing survey of this country in the 1890s and early 1900s. 
And now that there's seventy years in perspective, this documenta 
tion becomes terribly important, you see. The forest people can 
look at them and see the disposition of trees and meadows in 
early days. 

You see, very few people realize that Yosemite meadows are 
not natural grass; they imported grass for cattle feed. Because 
when people like the [John] Degnans were there in the seventies 
or eighties, I think Virginia can check the date they raised 
cattle for their milk. And they imported this very special grass. 
It was ordinary feed grass, but the grass you see in the meadows 
now has nothing to do with what was there first. The Kings 
Canyon has bunch grass, which is a quite different thing and very 
nourishing for donkeys, but it's not good for cows. 


Adams: Well, to get back to Yosemite the awful condition of the 

concessions that were there there were always conflicts. The Camp 
Curry people and the Desmond Park [Service] Company and somebody 
else's hotel and [A.C.] Pillsbury's studio and [David J.] Foley's 
studio and [Julius] Boysen's studio and Best's studio. Everybody 
just scratching for a living, you know. [Interruption] 

Some of the early Yosemite people were remarkable. [Gabriel] 
Sovulewski; you met Grace Ewing [Mrs. Frank B. Ewing], his daughter. 
He was a man who was very prominent in the building of the trails. 
He did very fine trail engineering, because some of the routing and 
structure o f those trails today are perfect. Some have just been 

The Half Dome Cable 

Adams: McAllister gave the cable up Half Dome, and asked me if I would put 

on the Crosby clamps. Now, a Crosby clamp is a U-shaped device which 
secures the cable from slipping through the post rings. Well, they 
weigh about five pounds apiece. 

So the government brought in at least two mule-loads of Crosby 
clamps and dumped them at the spring at the base of Half Dome, 
about a half a mile away, and left me a couple of monkey wrenches 
and a safety belt and said, "Good luck to you." [Laughter] 

Well, you know, I had no idea of the weight. Here I have this 
pile of metal, and I have to think, "Do I start the clamps at the 
top or bottom?" Well, I started them at the top, logically, because 
we have to "break in" on a job like this. So I took about ten 
clamps fifty or sixty pounds in my knapsack and went up these 
cables, which weren't really rightly set. I first had to climb up 
to what they call the "neck" of the "Elephant," several hundred feet 
of trail to the base of the Dome. Then I had to go up the seven 
hundred feet to the top and attach the clamps as I came down. Let's 
see, there 'd be one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 
ten there 'd be five pairs of posts, and I could do them in one trip. 
And I had to work at 45, but I had a belt. They were very thoughtful 
for that, but the hook was wrong. If I had fallen, it might have 
pulled off. But I was supposed to clamp that into the post while I 
set these clamps on and put the bolts together. 

Let's see. That took me six days of dawn-to-dusk work. And 
finally I got all the clamps on. I did this in the last part of 
April and early May. So it served its purpose all summer. But 
they had to be taken down every winter. They left the cables on 
the Dome. If the posts were strong enough and were shaped a different 
way, I think they could have left them up without damage from snow. 
But I'm not an engineer, so I don't know. 


Adams: Hence I have been up Half Dome probably more than anybody I can 
think of. [Laughter] 

In the first days, [George C.] Anderson climbed Half Dome 
drilling holes in the rock and inserting little expansion bolts. 
And the rope laid right on the surface of the Dome. It was quite a 
hazardous climb because the Dome was an exfoliated mass. Contrary 
to Muir, the glaciers never came to within seven hundred feet of the 
top of it. But these great plates of granite overlap on the down 
ward side, so you come across about a two-foot height of granite 
ledge. Well, when you're climbing at 45 a two-foot step or a thirty- 
inch step is really a pretty hazardous obstruction, especially when 
you're going down. So today we can climb the Dome safely, but a lot 
of climbers ascend the Dome outside the cable but only with ropes 
and the most careful "friction" climbing. 

But now they have cables with smaller clamps and a little 
different system. They still take them down. But it wasn't the 
cumbersome thing I had to work with. 

But that was an interesting experience. There was a sleet 
storm once, when everything was covered with ice. I didn't have any 
gloves and, oh gosh, it was terrible. [Laughs] Especially me, as a 
pianist, getting my fingers frozen. 

So, that was a very nice experience. 

When the LeContes were in Yosemite, we explored the Quarter 
Domes which are in between Half Dome and Clouds Rest actually 
between Half Dome and the Pinnacles. And on one of the Quarter 
Domes is an enormous erratic boulder, one of the best examples I 
know of. I have a picture somewhere of Joe LeConte standing by this 
boulder. LeConte was a tiny man (he was about five feet one) and 
this boulder looks gigantic. We agreed that he should always be 
around to be photographed in scenes of nature, because he made 
nature look so much bigger. [Laughter] 

Then I met Virginia. I used to go down to Best's studio, and 
Harry Best had an old Chickering square. And I used to practice. 
And of course the inevitable happened, but it was a very long 
engagement. She had tremendous patience. 

I would walk down from LeConte Memorial; it was about a mile. 
Didn't think anything at all of the fact that we had no car. I did 
have a car, a little old Ford laundry wagon. But I didn't have any 
lights, so at night I had to walk down to the studio and practice 
two or three hours . 

Teiser: You were practicing and taking care of the lodge and photographing 
all the time? 


Adams: Oh yes. You see, I also was studying harmony and musicology that I 
had to work on. So I was pretty busy. 

Teiser: You certainly were. 

Adams: On a nonacademic basis, but still... 

Logic and Faith 

Teiser: I'm amazed that you were such a responsible young man. You 
apparently did everything you said you were going to do. 

Adams: Yes, I did tried, at least. I guess I was pretty good. My father 
was a pretty good logician. I mean, he would say: if you have to 
do it, you do it, and do it the best you can. That's all there is 
to it. But I also was required to do a lot of literary work. And 
a lot of writing. 

Teiser: I wonder if your first published piece isn't a report in the Sierra 
Club Bulletin of 1921, as custodian of the LeConte Lodge. It was 
a report for 1920. 

Adams: Yes, it probably is. 

Teiser: About needed repairs. A short report. 

Adams: Yes. I have completely forgotten it, but that probably would be it. 
I think I told you the experience when I was studying Greek with 
old Dr. Harriot in San Francisco. Did I tell you that? Was that on 
the tape? 

Teiser: Yes. 

Adams: Yes. Dr. Harriot was a fundamentalist. He was a Canadian. He was 
apparently a very fine Greek scholar there was no question about 
that. He really was an awfully good teacher, I must say that for 
him. I read quite a little of the classic Greek and got a lot out 
of it. 

But he asked me one time, he asked, "What are you doing? What 
are you reading? Do you go to church?" I said, "No." 

"Oh, my God. You don't go to church!" I don't think he said 
"my God," but he indicated it was terrible. 

He asked, "What's your religion?" I said, "I guess it's 
Episcopalian. I don't know." 


Adams : 


Well, that goggle-eyed him. And then he asked, "What are you 
reading?" I said, "Poets. Of course I like the Romantic poets," 
and included Shelley. 

"Oh, Shelley! Evil!" He blew his top. Dr. Harriot said, 
"I suppose, young man, that you are one of those believers in 

I said, "Yes, it makes a lot of sense." 

He said, "Well, evolution is a very false thing, as the 
Scriptures clearly show you. It's a matter of devolution." 

I said, "What do you mean?" 

He said, "Well, the world was created by God in 4004 B.C. And 
we know that. That's been proven by " (I forget the name,)* And he 
said, "Ever since then, man has been de-volving instead of evolving, 
and will until the Second Coming will come and will clear it all 


Those were about the exact words. 

I said, "Well, Dr. Harriot, how do you account for the fossils 
in the rocks? I mean, geological history " 

"Oh," he said, "that's a lot of nonsense. My dear young man, 
God put the fossils in the rocks to tempt our faith." [Laughter] 

Well, that got my innate scientific mind, or tendency, really 
mad! I remember telling my father about it. 

"Well," he said, "if Dr. Harriot can multiply a time factor by 
maybe a million. The fossils, you know, are there like we are, and 
tempting what fate?" He couldn't quite blast the old man Papa was 
very kind. But looking back at it, it's absolutely curious that 
people have that degree of logic in modern times! 

This image I had of God was of a bearded man in a white robe 
with a knapsack full of fossils, poking them in the rocks to tempt 
the faith of some serfs that would follow. So I think from that 
time on I was really soured on conventional religion, because 
felt it was pretty bad and weak. 

Well, you were ready to be a pantheist, I suppose. 

Yes, I guess I was, but I never got to the point of the pathetic 
fallacy. And that's interesting that I didn't, because I very 
easily could have. And a lot of people today, in this super- 
conservation time, with movements and ideologies, approach pantheism 
more than I ever did. That is, imputing individualistic qualities 
to natural things. Who called it the pathetic fallacy? I can't 
remember the wasn't it Wordsworth? 

*Bishop Ussher. 


Teiser: It may have been Wordsworth. 

Adams: Wordsworth was kind of a highly expressive John Muir. Well, I'll 
try to find out, because it really is an important element of 

Teiser: Well, maybe it was Ruskin. 

Adams: I think maybe you're right. I think maybe it s^ Ruskin. Let's 

look it up. [It was!] It means we attribute human qualities to the 
inanimate or to the nonhuman. 

Of course, remember, being born in San Francisco, being part of 
the Golden Gate and the West and the Sierra Nevada, I have a 
totally different concept of the world from the people born in the 
Midwest and the East. 

Although the early paintings of the Hudson River School are 
really quite remarkable. There are some beautiful places, but 
they're all on relatively small scale. You never have this over 
powering impact of the West but you have more thunderstorms, which 
make up for it! 

Panchromatic Plates 

Teiser: Were you aware of Carle ton E. Watkins's photographs? 

Adams: No. I'm very glad you brought that up, because I didn't know about 
Watkins for decades. I saw a lot of old photographs and they didn't 
mean anything to me. I'd see some and I'd say, "Oh, they're terrible.' 
The only thrill I got in that domain was when I went in to see old 
A.C. Pillsbury and he was a rather remarkable man. He did the 
first time-lapse movies of flowers opening. Great man. He'd 
received some Wrattan & Wainright glass plates from England. And 
they were panchromatic, and he used a red filter, and he showed these 
pictures, and you never saw such glorious clouds and dark skies, and 
oh gosh, it was just something! 

Well then, the story should revert a little to a bit of 
photographic history which is not very much known. George Eastman 
had a terrific industry by the tail, and realizing that this thing 
was just getting beyond him and beyond anybody on his staff, and 
knowing that he had to have photo-scientists, he 'd heard that Dr. 
C.E.K. Mees was the really top photographic scientist going. There 
was somebody in Germany, but George didn't like the Germans, and he 
went to England. And he saw Mees and said, "I want you to work for 


Adams: me." He offered him a salary very much more than Mees could even 
dream of getting in England, and Mees said, "I'm under contract to 
Wrattan & Wainright for ten years; I can't accept it." What did 
Eastman do? He bought out Wrattan & Wainright [laughter] to get 

So that was why you had for a while Kodak-Wrattan plates. My 
"Monolith, the Face of Half Dome" is made on one, incidentally. And 
the Wrattan filters, which still persist today are the world standard 
of color filters. They're now all in gelatins, but they can be made 
up in glass. 

Mees was imported to Kodak in Rochester and became the 
director of research. And Eastman was a very strange man a 
bachelor had a great Momma complex. He was not a very easily 
understood person, but completely honorable. Many great stories 
were told me by Mees. I used to see Mees often after he'd retired 
to Honolulu. I'd go to his home every other day or so while I was 
there, and we'd sit down and have a drink by the sea and talk, and 
he'd reminisce. Loved to see me, because it was a way of blowing 
off steam. Boy, the stuff I got from him! If I'd had a tape 
recorder, it would be invaluable! I mean the early part of Kodak, 
and the struggles, and what was quality , and why they didn't take 
up the Land projects. You see, Land had an option of a hundred 
or two hundred thousand dollars with Kodak to buy his project. 
They were just beginning. And "Nobby" [Walter] Clark said, "Oh, 
it's just a toy. We can't do it." 

Mees said, "I was inclined to favor us getting it, but of 
course, we couldn't have brought it out until it had been perfected. 
A young company could bring out something that isn't perfect, but an 
established company cannot do that." 

Well, of course Polaroid is second to Kodak now, thank God 
[laughter], for that very reason, and has achieved perfection. 

Mees told me this wonderful story of advertising. "I was at 
my desk early one morning and a man comes down and gives me a 
message. 'Mr. Eastman wishes to see you immediately, without delay.'" 
And Mees thought, "What have I done now?" He'd never got a message 
like this before! "So I went up to the office." [Imitates Eastman 
hearty tone:] "Come in, Mees. Sit down." And he pulled out an 
advertisement that had been in the morning paper: 'Kodak makes the 
best lenses in the world.' And he says, "Mees, is that true?" And 
Mees said (he had a couple of fast thoughts, you see), "Well, I'm a 
scientist. I can't do any sales or advertising." He said, "No, 
Mr. Eastman. It isn't true. The Dahlmeyer, Zeiss, and Cooke and a 
few others make, really, better lenses than we do." [Imitating 
Eastman:] "That's what I thought. I know we're trying. Thank you 
very much." 


Adams: From that time on, every advertisement that came over the desk of 
George Eastman had to be checked by Mees and one or another person 
for accuracy and honesty. 

And that's one of the best things I heard about Eastman. He 
was that kind of a person. 

I must say that of all the material I use, Eastman Kodak's the 
most consistent. They're the least imaginative company, the least 
innovative in one sense the aesthetic sense. But they're really 
a pretty fantastic outfit. 

Teiser: You said that Pillsbury showed you a Wrattan & Wainright plate? 

Adams: Yes. Wrattan and Wainright were the big English firm that made 
plates and filters, maybe papers. 

Teiser: Were they new? 

Adams: Oh yes. He got some of the first ones. And then I got a box when 
they came on the market. I got two boxes, in fact. I guess I had 
three, all together. And that's what I did the Monolith and other 
early pictures with. Then Kodak made them, and they were called 
Wrattan plates. 

Teiser: Were they very much better than the material you'd been getting? 

Adams: Well, there was nothing like them that I knew of. They were the 
first panchromatic emulsions of any consequence. 

Then of course they moved on to panchromatic film which is 
today the principal emulsion. Basically, a photographic emulsion 
is only sensitive to blue light. Plain silver halides react only 
to blue light. Now you bring in a dye which is sensitive to or 
absorbs the energy of green light and transfers that energy, as 
quantum energy, to the silver. That means the emulsion is sensitive 
to green as well as blue. Then you bring in the dyes that absorb 
red and green light, and you have panchromatic emulsion. 

They had three types of panchromatic A, B, and C. A is only 
partially panchromatic. A is red-sensitive, but of rather low 
green sensitivity. Type B, which is the standard film we have today, 
still has a deficiency in the green. The green part of the spectrum 
is that area of the spectrum to which the eye responds most. In 
other words, anything that is green comes through with a higher 
energy to the eye. So if I see a green fabric or a green tree and 
I say I want to place that on, say, Zone V of the scale, I really 
have to place it on VI to get the "visual" effect. That fools a 
lot of people. That's why you see so many black trees in mountain 
pictures. They are of low color saturation to begin with, and 
panchromatic film does further lower the green values. 


Adams: The Panchromatic C was super red-sensitive, and therefore it was 
very fast with tungsten light. (Tungsten light has a greater 
proportion of red light to it than daylight.) One effect was that 
it produced white lips . They had to develop two correcting green 
filters to take care of the type C. 

All these things are simple to understand, but very few people 
know about them at all! 

Verichrome pan is a film which is more sensitive to green than 
the ordinary pan. Therefore, it is recommended for a lot of 
landscape work. But it never caught on, because people liked to use 
strong filters and get black skies, whereas in the daguerreotype 
and wet plate days, you'd only get white skies. You could only use 
blue light. 

I would say you got a greater 'stylization of values in the 
early days with emulsions sensitive to blue light only than you do 
now with panchromatic materials. I can duplicate that effect by 
using a strong blue filter; it cuts out all the other light. 

We have a series of filters that partially withhold light of 
various colors . And you have filters which are called tri-color 
say, the blue, green, and red, which transmit the respective colors. 
Then you have the "minus" filters, which are very interesting, such 
as the minus blue (number twelve) and the minus red and minus green. 

Teiser: Does "minus blue" mean it doesn't let any blue through? 

Adams: Yes, it completely cuts out the blue. There's more than a hundred 
Wrattan filters. All of these are tools which the photographer can 

Teiser: This photograph, "Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake," I wonder 
what film you used for it. This is the one that's variously dated 
1923 and 1927. 

Adams: That's glass plate. That's the same as the Half Dome. I think it 
was made in 1923 on that trip with Harold Saville. And it was made 
on a Wrattan plate. 

Teiser: Is that why you were able to get such splendid sky? 

Adams: Oh yes. Ordinary orthochromatic (green-sensitive) plates couldn't 
do that. The sky you'd get the clouds and you'd get the clarity, 
but you wouldn't get that level of richness. Strange things happen 
when the sky drops in value below the clouds (because, you see, the 
sky, say at that angle, would be around four hundred candles per 
square foot, between three and four hundred), and the clouds would be 
around eight hundred and a thousand. You'd have only a one to two or 
a one to three ratio. And that isn't enough to be dramatic. 


Adams: Now, with orthochromatic film, you could lower the sky value a lot. 
I mean, I get a K2 or G filter. But you couldn't lower the sky 
value as much as you could with a panchromatic plate or film. And 
that's why in the early days using blue-sensitive plates you couldn't 
photograph clouds, because the blue sky had the same photometric 
value as the clouds. So they made separate negatives of clouds. 

When they brought it down on the scale, giving one-eighth or 
one-sixteenth the exposure, the clouds were obviously much brighter 
than the sky. Then they'd use those cloud negatives and print them 
in. Sometimes they'd get them upside down. [Laughter] Sometimes 
they got them with light on the cloud from the right side and the 
light on the mountain from the left. [More laughter] I'm telling 

One of the funniest ones was years ago. The prize-winning 
picture of the Royal Photographic Society in London. It was a 
picture of the Parthenon, and it was in beautiful late evening light. 
The white columns glowed in the late sun. And behind was a thunder 
cloud, you see. A very beautiful picture. Boy, that's something! 
Then you look at the light on the columns, which is coming from 
this side, and the light on the clouds, which is coming from that 
side. [Laughter] 

And I have a picture of Half Dome and the moon which is an 
unintentional phony. This picture of the Dome was taken about two 
in the afternoon. And I just kept the camera in the same place, 
and the moon came up after the sun had completely gone. Here's the 
full moon in the sky the moon and Half Dome. It's a real moon 
not "printed in." I show that to people and I say, "What's wrong 
with this picture?" They can't figure it out. 

V. Adams: The moon would never be that high when the sun is still up? 

Adams: If you had a perfect full moon there wouldn't be any sun. Because, 
it's always at the same angle opposite the sun. And you only get 
the full moon when the sun is directly opposite and below the 
horizon. So here's a full moon in the sky, and the sun was clearly 
high, which is an absolute impossibility. 

V. Adams: I think you took it at four in the afternoon. 

Adams: Four, it might have been. Well, now the good one, the vertical one 
(taken with the Hasselblad) , the one I use all the time, that's a 
real moon in real time! That's about a little over three-quarters. 
That's taken about three-thirty or four maybe by daylight savings 
time, five. And the shadows are falling on the Dome. But the moon 
is in the right phase for that position of the sun. 

Teiser: It's on the cover of this last Infinity, May 1972. 


Adams: Yes. Also a special edition print which you've seen around a lot. 
It's a very impressive picture. It's absolutely real. There's 
nothing wrong there. That's the moon and the Dome, and they are 
taken together. But you just can't bring the moon up into the 
wrong phase, you see. Because anybody who knows the disposition 
of the heavenly bodies is going to immediately blow .their top. 
[Laughs ] 

[End Tape 10, Side 1] 
[Begin Tape 10, Side 2] 

Dreams and Heavenly Bodies 

~~- ~ 

Adams: As you know, I'm scientifically inclined, and I am not a professional 
mystic. I cannot categorically deny such things as ESP or thought 
transference, because I think those are domains we know nothing 
about. But I can record for you an experience that when I was a 
young boy in San Francisco, before I ever went to Yosemite, I had 
an extremely vivid dream of waking up in a big building on a cot. 
I can still remember the discomfort of the cot. And I looked up 
to my right and here was a multipaned window whatever you call 
these window panes and the moonlight was coming through, and it 
gave me the feeling of being in some kind of a stone-cast building. 
The dream was so extremely vivid that I've never forgotten it. And 
I've been very sure now to remember that it happened long before I 
went to Yosemite. 

And in 1919 I was sleeping in the LeConte Memorial on a cot, 
and I woke up and here was the same window, the same moon, the same 
mood the stone building the complete reconstruction, if you want 
to say it, of this dream, which had made such an impression that I 
couldn't forget it. And the effect on me was of course a little 
bit shattering. I remember getting up and turning on the lights 
and dressing and sitting and wondering what it was all about. 
Because this was a complete, detailed duplication of the dream. 

Whether that is total coincidence or whether it's something 
else, I don't know, but it's something that's very important. And 
I just record it with the assumption that it is coincidence and 
probably emotionally exaggerated and so on. But it is something 
that for me was a real occurrence. 

And of course I do have these dreams recurrently, every six 
months or so, of getting in a taxi and driving to a music hall or an 
opera house or a symphony hall, and seeing great placards screaming 
that Ansel Adams is going to play the Brahms Second Concerto with 


Adams: the Boston Symphony. It's all very real. I'm in a terrible state 
because I don't know the Brahms Second Concerto at all. But I 
nevertheless am disgorged at the stage entrance and go in. All the 
musicians are there backstage, tuning up and talking, and the 
conductor comes forward and says, "I'm so glad to see you. Our 
rehearsal was encouraging." And I sit there, and a slight feeling 
of perspiration "What am I doing here?" I take a glimpse, and the 
hall is completely packed with hundreds or thousands of people. 
Finally the conductor invites the orchestra to go out on the stage, 
and they go out and take their places. And I'm supposed to lead, 
so I walk out and the conductor follows me, and I get as far as the 
piano. And the conductor bows and we all bow, and he steps to the 

And at that time I wake up from the situation with the screaming 
heeby-jeebies because I don't know the work, I don't know anything 
about it, even the first notes.' I'm absolutely incapable of doing 

I've sometimes gotten further when it's been really a very 
traumatic business. And sometimes I just barely get out to the 
piano. But with the idea of not knowing anything about the music 
but being fully billed for it, advertised, announced. It is a scary 
situation. The orchestra's good. And in some strange way, I have 
had a rehearsal of which I remember nothing. And I keep getting 
this dream over and over again. I must have had it a dozen times. 

It's a very interesting frustration dream. I've had the same 
thing in climbing of climbing on an icy mountain; everything is 
fine and then I find myself stuck, and I don't know where to go. 
I suppose that's motivated a little bit by Muir's description of 
Mount Ritter, where he was spread-eagled on the cliff and couldn't 
see up or down or sideways. Of course, he never should have been 
there anyway. (I never should have been in many of the places I 
was really in.) But the instinct takes over and he leaps and grabs 
a ledge and gets out of his predicament. 

Well, I have these dreams getting into absolutely insoluble 
problems and then I wake up. Sometimes you wake up with a sense 
of relief, and sometimes you wake up, really, with just shock. 

Teiser: Ever dream photographs? 

Adams: Yes. And I also dream in color, which is very interesting. I'm 
very conscious of color. 

Teiser: There are few people, I think, who do. 

Adams: Yes, I think so. I do dream in color. Things are seen in colors. 
So I can say that , truthfully . 


Adams: But this other one is such an interesting experience in Yosemite 
in the LeConte Memorial. My father always recounted of having a 
dream he's sleeping out somewhere and he sees a star, and the star 
begins to move toward him and becomes brighter and brighter and 
brighter. And finally he wakes up. 

And I had one experience I was up, I guess, way up in 
Tuolumne Meadow somewhere, where I saw a meteorite coming directly 
at me, the first time I've ever seen that. The angle of approach 
of the meteorite was right directly toward me, so that the object 
became brighter and brighter and brighter and suddenly extinguished. 
It was quite an experience. And of course I thought of my father's 
dream. He might have seen something. 

And then lately, in late years, we've gone to the high country, 
and we see satellites. I remember seeing the first Sputnik from the 
top of the Polaroid building in Boston. It was going south across 
the sky. And many scientists were up there, and they were looking 
at this with extraordinary interest! Some of us were just thinking, 
"What a wonderful thing," and others were very glum: "They got 
there first," they said. This little thing was traveling fast, and 
it took quite a time to get down to the horizon. It had a strange, 
illusionary flat trajectory, and it suddenly winked out when it got 
in the earth's shadow. 

I had a very interesting psychological experience in San 
Francisco. I walked out of the house one night, going to my 
darkroom, which was next door. And I looked up at the sky just 
looked up a glance. (I always do, for some reason.) And then 
after a few seconds I thought, "What is this?" My unconscious said, 
"There's something going on." I looked up again and here was a 
satellite moving. Now, the interesting thing was that I looked up 
just as a glance, and yet my mental computers were able to tell me 
that there was something moving among the stars. 

The mind is so complex what goes on is so remarkable such as 
the speed with which things are observed and computed. I just took 
a quick glance at the sky, and then it took ten seconds or more for 
my mind to tell me that there was something different up there. 

Teiser: Your visual computers must be faster than most people's. 

Adams: I don't know. They're probably more directed in some ways. They're 
probably not any faster. 


Concepts of Conservation and Wilderness 

Teiser: I'll just ask you one question more about Yosemite. Did you think 
in the early days, "This is a place to be preserved"? 

Adams: Oh yes. But it was vaguely formed in my mind at that time. The 
question of preservation the whole conservation picture was 
confused in the early days. It still is!! The Sierra Club, with 
their outings, was trying to get people into the mountains to see 
them so that they would support legislation for their protection. 
I used to get a more interesting reaction going to Forest Service 
country, like the mining country at the Minarets, because of the 
evidence of human content. I think we always felt the wilderness 
had to be preserved, but we had a very hazy idea what preservation 
really meant. And we thought nothing of putting our donkey in a 
meadow to pasture, and nothing of having camped at a riverbank. 

Mr. Holman had some pretty advanced ideas. And in fact, he was 
the one who promoted the idea of fire being an important element in 
continuing the character of the forest. Then later on, people came 
and talked about the fact that wilderness is an illusion "What do 
you call wilderness?" If nobody 'd been there ever, maybe that's 
wilderness. But Yosemite was populated first with Indians, then 
with sheepherders and cattle people. So, I always say wilderness is 
a mystique. It's a state of mind, which we enjoy, in its so-called 
pristine quality, because we have our wonderful equipment the best 
boots in the world, the best clothing, condensed food all kinds of 
things. It's like a man going to the moon and being completely 
equipped with life-supporting units. We do the same thing in a way 
in the wilderness. 

I think if people in the club today went out and lived the way 
Mr. Holman and I did in the twenties, they couldn't take it. We had 
mush, bacon, egg powder, flour, salt, some pepper, beans, period. 
You know, all cooked up over an open fire in tin cans. And my 
digestion could take it! I used to eat the most colossal quantities 
of mush, my God! Quarts! Just couldn't fill up. Weighed 120. 

Teiser: Any corn meal? 

Adams: Well, sometimes corn meal, but that had its difficulties. We 

usually had oats Quaker oats and that was before the quick cooking 
kind too, and at a high altitutde you have to cook and cook. Oh, 
we had some rice; then we had tomato sauce. We had a lot of simple 
things and we had honey. And then of course there was the eternal 
biscuit and flapjack situation. The diet was very monotonous. 


Yosemite Concessions 

Adams: I think well, there's so much more to say there. I think the 

conflict of the early concessions in Yosemite is important. They 
were all bad. Nobody had any feeling for the place at all. Well, 
I think Virginia had a real reaction. Grace Ewing had. But people 
who came in the main were a very low order of people as a rule. The 
whole place was a big curio, and people as well as the operators had 
no understanding and no respect. They sold these horrible curios 
and pandered to the worst possible level of taste you can imagine. 
A lot of the people got together and petitioned the government to 
build a road up by Vernal and Nevada Falls so the public could "see" 
it. Well, naturally it would ruin the place! I remember arguing 
that; they laughed me down. "Well, if you had to do business here, 
you'd want more people, wouldn't you?" Which is unfortunately the 
concessioner's idea. Not really in Yosemite now. 

But after the formation of the big company [Yosemite Park and 
Curry Company] they've always given good service. 

In many ways, when you compare it to all the other parks, there's 
nothing anywhere as good. After all, you ask somebody to come in and 
run a business accommodations and food and hopefully make a little 
profit; it can't be done on an entirely idealistic basis. You have 
to have all kinds of little things to sell and "entertainment" to 

Teiser: Should the government be running the concessions? 

Adams: The government should own all the plants and lease the operations. 
But you see, when [Stephen T. ] Mather took over the directorship of 
the Park Service under President Wilson remember, it was a 
Democratic administration, and Mather was a very prominent Republican 
businessman (head of the Borax Company of America) but very 
idealistic. He felt that everything could be operated on Republican 
principles, and that private business should be invited into the park 
to operate under government supervision. But there wasn't any 
subsidy it was just taken for granted that it would be automatically 
profit-making. But what happened was that people did invest money, 
but they didn't earn anything. In other words, they had no property; 
they just had leases for the land. You could build a building on it, 
but it belonged to the government. You have only a sort of prior 
right to it, and you have to maintain it. The whole thing is subject 
to review now, and it's a very important thing. The government should 
take over the capital investment, and then lease operation on a 
percentage basis under the most strict controls. But who's going to 
define the "strict control"? Who's going to write the taste pattern? 
That's a terribly difficult thing. 


Adams: So we have the eternal flux of enterprise, idealism, profit, loss, 
and tolerance. [Laughter] 

Well, I'll see you again next weekend? 
[End Tape 10, Side 2] 

Sierra Club Photographers 

[Interview IX 2 June 1972] 
[Begin Tape 11, Side 1] 

Teiser: In 1923 you made an album of forty-five exhibit photographs for the 
Sierra Club. What were they? 

Adams: I went along for several years on the outings as the photographer, 
as well as assistant manager, and I made countless pictures which 
were available to the members at very low cost. We would get these 
random orders one year, and I decided the next year I would take 
this number of prints that I thought were good and do it all up as 
a portfolio. It was very cheap, and they weren't very good prints. 
They were as good as I could make them then. I wasn't planning to 
cut corners, but it was just a selection of pictures on the trip; a 
group of us got together and picked out which we thought were the 
best ones. It was a personal club thing. 

It's like, way back in 1925-1926, the LeConte family and I, we 
met a big pack train with a lot of rich New York bankers terribly 
important people financially, and they had about six mules per 
person. They were so anxious Herbert Wykoff , a lawyer, had told 
them about me, and they ordered several sets of pictures. I 
remember, I got the largest fee I ever received from anybody, which 
was $750. It probably cost me $710 to do it. [Laughs] These sets 
were made for these five men; just a private order. 

Teiser: Were you the first official photographer of the Sierra Club? Did 
they make that title up for you? 

Adams: Well, that was an "apocryphal" title. There were photographers that 
had worked for years with the club. One of them was Rodney Gleason. 
Then there was Walter Huber. But I have no idea what their status 
was whether they went along for a free trip, or whether they just 
photographed for pleasure. LeConte and Huber and Theodore Solomons, 
all those people made photographs on an amateur basis and never made 
anything out of it, and that's why I, when I did my set, I did it 
practically at cost basis, because it was considered improper to 
make money out of the club if you weren't a professional. 


Adams: Then Cedric Wright followed me in that position. Got the free 

outing for being both sanitary engineer and the photographer. He 
made some very fine photographs, and he sold them. But at that 
time he realized that he was a quasi-professional and could make 
something on it. 

Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail 

Adams : 



The John Muir Trail] 

Adams : 

Adams : 

Now, the Sierra Nevada book [Sierra Nevada; 

was done in '38, I think. In memory of Peter Starr, his father 
[Walter A. Starr] sponsored it. 

I see that it was done by the Archetype Press. 
Bentley, was it? 

That was Wilder 

Yes, Wilder Bentley in Berkeley. And the engravings were done by 
the Donnelley Company and tipped in. It's a very, very rare book. 
We call it the "white elephant." There's some very poor pictures 
in it and some of my best. And the reproductions (letterpress) as 
a whole are very fine, but the tip- in, especially with calendared 
or plated paper, is very bad because the corners break. If you 
have a lithograph or a drawing on a sheet of rag paper, you can 
bend the corner and it might not break, but the baryta coating on 
smooth paper will crack. So there have been terrible disasters 
with the book, where they folded the prints over and they have 
broken. These reproductions are on a plate paper very smooth 
surface and varnished. 

I was talking the other day about the baryta coat, which is a 
white clay filler which gives extremely smooth paper surface and 
of course keeps the image away from contact with the paper fibers. 
You take one of those engravings and bend it the paper surface 
plus the varnish or lacquer you would have a break. 

Same thing with the Making a Photograph book, which has tipped- 
in illustrations, also reproduced by letterpress. 

That was printed in large quantities, wasn't it? 

Oh yes. It was printed in many editions. But the Sierra Nevada 
book was printed in only one edition. 

And a small one at that, wasn't it? 
Yes. I forget how many. 


Teiser: Did you initiate the idea, or did Mr. Starr initiate it? 

Adams: Mr. Starr said he'd like to do a memorial for his son using 

photographs, and asked me what did I have to suggest. So I said, 
"Well, why don't we do the John Muir Trail?" (I had photographed 
most of the area.) "We can put together something worthwhile." 

Teiser: Was his son a mountaineer? 

Adams: His son was a mountaineer a loner, as they call it. He was killed 
on the Minarets, climbing all alone, which was a very stupid thing 
to do. I think he was psychologically rather strange in that idea 
of personal isolation immolation would be a good word. You can't 
climb alone in that kind of crags without some day having something 
happen to you. So he was found near the top of one of the Minarets 
by Norman Clyde. He was buried there; they just cemented him in on 
a ledge. The best thing to do. 

Teiser: What a wonderful memorial to him. 

Adams: Well, his father was a very prominent man businessman, connected 
with the Sierra Club, of course, intimately president and so on. 
Walter and I had been on trips. He lived to be eighty-seven or 
something. A very fine person. Of course, he didn't have any 
idea of books, and he was rather appalled at the cost. And I think 
we sold the book for fifteen dollars. It says in the colophon in 
the back that five hundred copies were printed. 

When I have done a book, I can remember nothing about it. 
I can't remember the sequence of pictures 

Teiser: Did you work with Wilder Bentley on it? 

Adams: Oh yes, we worked very closely on it. 

Teiser: What was he like? 

Adams: Very fine man, very capable craftsman. 

Teiser: There's an acknowledgement in the book. It says, "For permission 

to use many of the pictures reproduced in this volume, I am indebted 
to Alfred Stieglitz, the Studio Publications, the Sierra Club 
Bulletin, Camera Craft magazine, and many other organizations and 
individuals." What does that mean? 

Adams: The acknowledgements are merely a courtesy to previous use of the 
pictures. And it really isn't necessary. 

Teiser: They didn't have rights? 


Adams: They had no legal copyrights. But Stieglitz gave me an exhibit, 
and the Sierra Club and these people that had used the pictures 
I just wanted to give them credit. These acknowledgements, which, 
as I said, have no legal obligation, as they would if rights had 
been secured. 

For instance, the pictures in my Portfolios Five and Six are 
strictly limited and under the control of the Parasol Press. So 
if the Morgans, who are doing my monograph*, want to reproduce one, 
they have to get permission of the Parasol Press and pay a use fee. 
Otherwise I'd be in difficulty, because I'm never supposed to let 
any of those things out. The Parasol Press bought the entire 
edition and the rights of use. 

The courtesy is sometimes based on economic necessity, but 
most times it's based on ethical consideration these people 
encouraged me and showed my work. 

Teiser: These photographs in the Sierra Nevada book had been made, then, 
over quite a series of years? 

Adams: Oh yes. 

Teiser: We'd like to have on the record your comments on some of your 

photographs, and since these are published, so that people could 
see copies of them, could you just look at the book and discuss 
them by title? 

Adams: Well, the frontispiece, of the mountain climbers, was on the 
Minarets, and one of those is Dave Brower. 

Teiser: Which one? 

Adams: I think it's this one [the one at the top]. 

Then, the "Yosemite Valley" shows many of the very first 
negatives I made with an eight by ten camera. These negatives are 
catalogued as I-Y-I et seq. "I" signifies eight by ten, "Y" is 
Yosemite, and "I" is the serial number. I forget the dates, but 
most were early, as is the "Bridalveil Fall," which is on a glass 
plate. And "Half Dome, Yosemite Valley," with a thunder cloud, 
is again one of my early good ones. I was always a little worried 
about trimming, cropping it, but it has wonderful variation of 
"feeling" depending on the cropping. 

*Subsequently published. 
Morgan & Morgan, 1972) 

Ansel Adams (Hastings-on-Hudson, New York: 


Teiser: Is this cropped to your satisfaction? 

Adams: No, not entirely. 

Teiser: Are these somewhat reduced from negative size? 

Adams: Well, it depends: the largest negative size I use is eight by ten. 
Now, "Vogelsang Peak" was made on a five by seven negative in the 
late twenties. That's up near Tuolumne Pass. 

Teiser: What time of day was that? 

Adams: It could be late in the day, very late, perhaps an hour and a 
half before sunset. "Mount Lyell," with Lyell Canyon and the 
Tuolumne River, that was done early too, and on an eight by ten 

Teiser: By "early" you mean in the twenties? 

Adams: Well, around in that area. Maybe early 1930s. The "Grass and 
Burned Stump," that's on a four by five. And was done near 
Wawona. "Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake" is a 6 1/2 by 8 1/2 
glass plate done way back in the twenties. 

Teiser: That's what Mrs. Newhall said is your first significant picture? 

Adams: Well, I think the "Monolith, the Face of Half Dome" was, but 
there's some discussion about the dates. 

Teiser: Oh, you mean the discussion concerns the dates, not the significance? 

Adams: Both! This "Shadow Lake" is one of the best ones. I took many on 
that trip, but these were mostly on 6 1/2 by 8 1/2 glass plates, 
whereas the other later ones are on eight by ten glass plates and, 
of course, four by five film. 

Teiser: That was well before your announced rejection of pictorialism, and 
yet "Shadow Lake" is not pictorial in any way. 

Adams: Yes. The first prints were made on goofy paper, but the negatives 
were pretty good. Many were damaged in my Yosemite darkroom fire, 
so in order to reproduce them now, we must have the prints 
"retouched" by the engraver. This "Shadow Lake, Mount Ritter and 
Banner Peak" was done on a five by four film. It's very interesting. 
The Graflex people put out a roll film holder in which the image 
proportions were full four by five. Now the standard four by five 
film is a four by five sheet, but it has a small margin around it 
areas to secure it in the film holder. But these Graflex roll films 
actually were full four- by five-inch images, which of course no 
four by five enlarger will take. I have to use a bigger enlarger. 


Adams: "The Pass" was made on 3 1/4- by 4 1/4-inch roll film. 
Teiser: What pass is that? 

Adams: Well [pause] that's always a question. It's somewhere in the San 
Joaquin Sierra. I've forgotten the name. It's near Isaac Walton 
Lake in that area. 

"Upper Iceberg Lake." Well, this is a heavy snow year, you 
see. This was five by four. This was taken the same time as the 
other lake. 

"Michael Minarets" is the same. I think that's the one that 
Peter Starr was killed on. 

Teiser: Is that in the original proportion? Isn't it narrower than ? 

Adams: Well, I don't follow strictly the film format. Negatives come in 
certain sizes, and sometimes you follow them and sometimes you 
"crop." And this has always been much better cropped narrower. 
There's a lot of "disturbance" on the edge of the negative. So a 
narrow crop is indicated. 

This is a four by five, "Rock and Water," in the northern part 
of Yosemite National Park, in the Virginia Canyon area. It was 
done in gray light. 

Teiser: These hold their full scale quite well, don't they these 

Adams: Yes, these reproductions are wonderful. 

That is the Devil's Post Pile monument, which is east of 
Yosemite, on the John Muir Trail. 

"Red and White Mountain." We are now getting into the San 
Joaquin (South Fork) Sierra. This drains into the Middle Fork. 
Bear Creek Spire, Mount Starr (the mountain off Mono Pass). 

This is just "Leaves," somewhere in the Sierra. 
Teiser: What kind of lighting is that? 
Adams: It's gray light. Sky light or late evening or clouds. 

"Pilot Knob" this has another name. It's an erroneous name 
and I forget what it is. This is Evolution Creek, all right, but 
it's not "Pilot Knob." "Emerald Peak and Cloud Shadows." That's 
near Muir Pass. 


Adams: Then here's "Lake Near Muir Pass." I think it's Wanda Lake. It's 
interesting; was done before the time of polarizers. We are 
looking down through clear water to submerged rocks. This shows 
how pure that water was! It's very clear, and the sky was deep 
blue. If there had been clouds in the sky, you would have had a 
terrible time with the cloud reflections. 

"Black Giant" near Muir Pass is a telephotograph. It is of 
black slate which is accentuated by the cloud shadows here. 

Then "Flowers and Rock." That's somewhere in the Kings River 
Sierra. "Grouse Valley" is in the Middle Fork of the Kings. The 
LeContes did a lot of exploration in there. 

Teiser: What time of year do you get those big clouds? 
Adams: Well, even in summer July, August. 

"Bishop Pass and the Inconsolable Range." That's a spur on 
the east side, near Bishop Pass. It's a great thunderstorm area; 
it's usually muttering with thunder. "Inconsolable" is a 
marvelous name. Theodore Solomons gave many of the names during 
his early travels, like Scylla and Charybdis, and the Gorge of 
Despair and many names of classic derivation. 

"Devil's Crags from Palisade Creek Canyon" this is on the 
Middle Fork of the Kings country. "Cascade, Palisade Creek Canyon." 
I forget what mountain that is. And this is "The North Palisade;" 
this is looking northeast big thunderstorm is building up. 

Teiser: Did you often have to work on very sloping ground? 

Adams: Oh no. You'd come to the top of a ridge. Then maybe use a long 
lens, which would avoid foreground. 

"Rocks and Grass" that's typical of almost anywhere in the 

"Mount Winchell" is one of the Palisades the northern area. 
This is at sunset. It is a telephotograph taken from eight miles 

Teiser: How long a lens was that? 

Adams: Well, it's what they call an adjustable telephoto, a Dallmeyer 
Adon, which has a positive lens in the front which picks up the 
image, and then a negative lens in the back which magnifies it in 
relation to the extension. It's not optically very good, but I 
have done some pretty good things with it . 


Adams: Then "Mather Pass" that's going over from the Middle Fork to the 
South Fork, Kings. 

And "Marion Lake" was up in Cartridge Creek. This is named 
after Joe LeConte's first wife, Helen Marion Gompertz. And her 
ashes are there, and a little plaque on a beautiful rock somewhere 
over here. This was taken with a glass plate. Later we took the 
Sierra Club outing party across this country, which is about the 
roughest thing we've ever done, fifteen, twenty miles from Granite 
Pass. And it was really a tough thing, and the packers were so 
glad to see the pass down to the lake. But getting one hundred 
animals over this rough stuff is really terrific. 

And "Arrow Peak from Cartridge Pass" Cartridge Pass goes over 
into the upper South Fork of the Kings. And then when you cross 
over beyond Arrow Peak you're going into the Kern River Sierra. 

And "Pinchot Peak," which is really Mount Wynne: I misnamed 
it. And again, the cloud shadows are marvelous. I remember working 
very hard on that one. Obviously at timber line. 

Here is "Mount Clarence King," and this is in the upper South 
Fork of the Kings River, and there's a little non sequitur here. 
I mean, if you're going in a given direction, these pictures 
aren't in the right sequence. 

Teiser: They're not entirely as you would go? 
Adams: No. Then "Rae Lakes" and the Red Dragon. 
Teiser: The water must have been extremely still there. 

Adams: Well, there are little ripples, but sometimes the lakes are just 

"The Mount Brewer Group from Glen Pass." And this is made 
with a twelve-inch process lens on a four by five film. It is very 

Teiser:: Have you often used process lenses? 

Adams: Well, I had one for years still have it. One of the sharpest 
lenses I've got. It's just a little thing. It's twelve inches 
focal length and a maximum aperture of f/11, so the diameter of the 
lens is only a little over an inch. 

Teiser: I thought they did something strange optically. 

Adams: Well, as you stop down you usually have to refocus; the process 

lenses are corrected for near objects. If you don't remember that, 
as you stop the lens down, you have to change the lens position, 
because it's not corrected for infinity. 


Adams: Then "Manzanita Twigs" could be anywhere in the Sierra. 

"Peaks and Talus, Kings River Canyon" this is the Grand 
Sentinel. This is taken at the bottom of a huge rock pile, looking 
up four thousand feet. 

The "Kearsarge Pinnacles" are in the upper Kings, on the way 
to Kearsarge Pass, and Forester Pass, which leads into the Kern 
River Sierra. This is "Junction Peak," near Forester Pass. We were 
there on a good juicy, icy year, because usually this is probably 
all clear of ice even in July. 

Teiser: About what time of year would this have been? 
Adams: Oh, this was in July, late July. 

Then when you're over in the Kern, you have the "Diamond Mesa," 
where the timber line is very high. 

"Milestone Mountain," that's right, taken from a place just 
a few feet above timber line. That is on the Kings-Kern divide. 
It goes from the Kaweah Range north to Hamilton Pass. 

Then there's "Mount Whitney" from the rear, above Crabtree 

Teiser: What's the shadow 

Adams: Well, it's late in the day. These are all shadows of big gorges, 
you see. It's very impressive one of my best pictures, I think. 
Quiet things are happening in the sky that are nice. 

Then here's the "Whitney Pinnacles (East Face)" and that's 
from a five by seven negative. 

Then "Sky Parlor Meadow" is in the Kaweah group at the base 
of the Kaweah Range. It is a big meadow on the Chagoopah Plateau. 
Moraine Lake, Sky Parlor are all very high in that area. "Rock and 
Water" (a typical Sierra scene). "Mount Kaweah, Moraine Lake" the 
Red Kaweah and the Black Kaweah in the distance. 

Teiser: Red Kaweah is the 

Adams: The big rounded peak. And then here's the "Kaweah Peaks from Little 
Five Lakes." The Red Kaweah 's way down to the right. In fact, up 
in the Chagoopah Plateau is where I found my meteorite. 

And this is the Black Kaweah, then the Middle and the Red. 
That is a tree that's just fallen; we are looking over to the peaks 
of the Kern Canyon. 


Adams: And this is "Lake and Cliffs," known as Precipice Lake on the way 
through Sequoia Park, over the Kaweah Gap, as they call it, which 
leads you into the Kern River Sierra. 

Teiser: Are these made before your Canyon de Chelly pictures? 

Adams : Oh yes . 

Teiser: Thank you so much for going through your book. 

Adams: This is my own copy. You know, there are series of about five 

or six copies of the ten copies that weren't numbered. [Reading] 
"Five hundred copies." Well, there should have been, say, 510. 
"The book was printed... by Wilder and Ellen Bentley." But it's 
very funny they say, "engravings and prints." Well, what they 
mean they tipped in engravings which came from the Lakeside Press, 
Chicago. * 

Teiser: Well, thank you! 

Adams: Now, I don't think that was too much of an ordeal. Boy, this tape 
is going to be priceless for all these verbal accidents! [Laughter] 

I find it very difficult to remember dates. I can usually 
remember places. I can't remember some of those rock pictures, 
except that first one, which I know was up in the Virginia Canyon 
Cold Creek in the northern part of Yosemite. But for the "Rock 
and Grass" and the others, I just have a complete blank. I can 
still see myself with the camera there, but I can't geographically 
place them. Of course, the Sierra is so similar, in certain 
geological belts, that you really can't tell. An expert could pick 
out a different type of granite, or some other minute variations. 

When you go up Cartridge Creek, you have a marvelous stone 
that is crystalline, shiny, multicolored, and that will blend into 
granite, and the granite yields to slate metamorphic rock is the 
real name for it. It may not be the true "slate" we know of. 

Then there's traces of great volcanic action- 
cap, and so on. 

the ancient lava 

And then jointed granite and granite that's been glaciated and 
formed the roche moutonnee that you find around Merced Lake, Tenaya 
Lake, and in the Yosemite country in general. I know very well if 
a subject is in the Rockies or in the Cascades. But I can't pin 
point things in the Sierra. 

*Part of R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company. 


Skiing in the Mountains 

Teiser: In the 1930 Sierra Club Bulletin you had an article on a ski trip. 
Skiing was apparently quite new then in this country. 

Adams: Yes, they'd been making experiments with skiing in Yosemite, and 
the company was trying to promote ski activity in the winter. 
They had a miserable little ski hill called "The Moraine" which 
is in the east end of the valley. The Tenaya Glacier and the 
Merced Glacier joined here and made a medial (I think it's called) 
moraine. And I think the whole thing's about 110 feet high, and 
when they have show on the north side you can ski down it. But 
that was a pretty pitiful ski situation. 

Then they built a little hut up on Mount Watkins and would 
take animals up as far as they could get up the zigzags of the 
Snow Creek Trail. The skiing up there is pretty wonderful. But 
all I did was cross-country skiing climb with seal skins, employ 
telemark turns and sitzmarks and everything unorthodox you can 
imagine . 

In 1930 I took this trip to get photographs, with the group 
that went around the High Sierra camps to fill the ice houses. 
We'd go to Lake Tenaya, and would spend two or three days filling 
the ice houses with snow, and I'd try to photograph as best I 
could. The ski instructor, Jules Fritsch, and myself would go off 
to the high places. We got into pretty tough scrapes sometimes 
because we really didn't know too much about cross-country skiing 
in the Sierra. 

We went to Glen Aulin and then to Tuolumne Meadows, whereupon 
everybody came down with some sort of food poisoning from a bad 
can of food. I was the only one that escaped. And here I was all 
alone, a storm was coming up, and all these four people were sick 
as dogs. Should have been hospitalized. We were there for three 
or four days . 

Finally they recovered. The last day we got up at two in the 
morning; it was six below zero (this is Tuolumne Meadows), and we 
started out over Tuolumne Pass and down to Merced Lake. And there 
was no place to stay. There was no food at the ranger camp, so we 
went on to the Merced Lake Camp. And that was the most exhausting 
thing I've ever done because I had a fifty-pound pack; had to climb 
up to the top of the pass and then photograph and then go down, and 
when we got down about fifteen hundred feet into the Merced Canyon 
the snow would break through the manzanita. We'd collapse; we'd go 
through the tangle and we'd take spills, one after the other. 


Adams: We got down to the ranger cabin at the foot of the trail, and the 
bears had gotten into it and there was nothing left. So we had to 
ski further in mush, as they call it, to the Merced Lake camp, and 
we were able to get something there. But we were absolutely so 
tired we couldn't see straight.' We spent one day doing nothing. 
While the others were filling the ice house, Jules and I went up to 
Lake Washburn (I have quite a number of pictures), then returned 
the final thirteen miles to the valley. 

Teiser: How could you carry your equipment? 
Adams: In a knapsack. It was all up in the pack. 

I had one very amusing occurrence. I had my camera in my 
knapsack, with my tripod sticking up and I was following Jules 
Fritsch, who was a very accomplished skier. As we came down the 
slopes from Tuolumne Pass we encountered a group of alders, and 
Jules ducks and goes right through this group. I do exactly the 
same thing but did not realize that my tripod was sticking up 
above my head. The tripod catches in these alders, and my skis go 
up and lace in the trees. They had to come to get me out and take 
my skis off, and then unravel them from the alder branches. Of 
course if I'd broken a ski, I'd have been in dire trouble, or worse 
trouble if I'd broken a leg. But that was the most awful spot to 
be in!! All I can remember is suddenly feeling the pull back and 
seeing the skis go up with a loud whack. But I didn't break them. 

Teiser: You mean to say that there were four of you out skiing that far 
away without an extra pair of skis or a pair of snowshoes or 

Adams: Yes. It was very foolish, extremely foolish. Well, there was a 
pair of snowshoes in these various camps. Some of them had been 
chewed up by animals. But that wouldn't do you any good if you 
broke an ankle or a leg. I don't know what you'd do. I guess 
they'd just cut down some trees and make a sled and haul you. You 
have to figure that you have so many miles to go. If you're a fast 
walker, you 'go between four and five an hour, and a fast skier 
downhill can go very fast. But under different conditions you might 
take two or three hours for a mile. If there's ten miles, there's 
twenty or thirty hours. No way out of it; nothing else to do. 

Teiser: Well, you must have been a pretty good skier. 

Adams: Oh no. Pretty good cross country, in that I had a lot of 

endurance. And I could make what they call a telemark turn, which 
is the first thing we learned, where you bend the knee in the inner 
part of the curve. It's quite a graceful turn. We didn't have the 
Christiana at that time at all. Of course, it's as complicated as 


Adams: golf is now. There's all kinds of wax for different things, and 
different kinds of skis and different kinds of bindings. The old 
bindings you would just latch on and the leg would come apart 
before it would leave the ski. Now they have bindings that under 
a certain stress will give way, you see, which saves lots of bones. 
But still it's a very accident- infested sport. 

Teiser: Did you go on skiing? 

Adams: Oh, I did a little, but I never liked it. I liked the cross 

country, but we did not have winter camping equipment. Now, you 
know, they can go out for weeks with all this beautiful equipment. 
I have a space blanket, for instance, which is aluminum foil, and 
it's light as a feather. If you put the foil [surface on the 
inside] around you, in ten minutes you're hot. And in hot weather, 
you put the foil around you on the outside and you're cool. And 
they have these two- or three-pound down sleeping bags, and the 
way you do it now, you just dig a hole in the snow and sleep, and 
keep out the moving air, because the chill factor can be very bad 
in high altitudes with cold and wind. 

Teiser: Well, did the Sierra Club interest continue interesting itself in 

Adams: Oh yes. They have important ski Sections now. Ski mountaineering- 
cross country skiing is very much in vogue now, which I think is a 
wonderful way to really enjoy the wilderness. Skimobiles are 
atrocious. They're just a horrible intrusion. And while they 
don't do direct physical damage, because they are on snow, they do 
create noise and aesthetic damage, and they disturb wildlife, of 
which a surprising amount is out in winter. And they destroy any 
sense of wilderness you have. But their tracks will melt. But 
of course some of them want to clear routes. They want an open 
forest so they can go through these like you do with a ski lift. 
But that's only a short distance. The average snowmobile track 
will be many miles long, which I'm very much against. 

Teiser: I read somewhere that you moved your main residence to Yosemite 
Valley was it in 1937? 

Adams: Yes. My wife's father [Harry C. Best] died in 1936 in San 

Francisco. And then we negotiated; in fact, her father had formed 
a little family corporation, which allowed continuity. The general 
idea had been that when the individual concessioner died, that was 
the end. We applied to take it on, and the National Park Service 
agreed, and we moved up there in '37. We were there for quite a 
few years as our basic home, and rented the San Francisco place. 
Well, it was impossible for me to do professional work in Yosemite; 
it's illegal for an individual to do any private work. So I had to 


Adams: come back to San Francisco and set up my headquarters. And then the 
kids were in school in Yosemite and Mariposa. So we commuted. 
After getting a good manager in Yosemite we moved to San Francisco. 

The Sierra and Other Ranges 

Adams: I never missed a year in Yosemite since 1916. Never a minimum of 
less than five or six trips well, except in the first five years, 
when my trips were just in the summer. But I think about 1926 or 
'27 I was there three or four times; in '28 only twice; '29 very 
much. So in a sense it's always been a second home. 

Teiser: Twenty-eight was the year you were married, wasn't it? 

Adams: Yes. And I went to Canada with the Sierra Club. 

Teiser: You were on that high mountain trip in Canada? 

Adams: Yes. 

Teiser: Jasper 

Adams: Jasper and Mount Robson, but I did not go to Yellowstone in 1929. 

Teiser: Did you publish any of the Jasper pictures? 

Adams: A few in the Sierra Club Bulletin. 

Teiser: Did you enjoy photographing there? 

Adams: Well, some of it's pretty good, but it's not like the Sierra. 

Sedimentary rocks do not have the shapes and the strength. The 
Canadian Rockies have a wonderful mood, but it's one of the most 
infested areas you can possibly imagine mosquitoes, horseflies; 
bad trails and very erratic weather. Of course it's quite far 
north, so you're always up at two in the morning to start climbing. 
And climbing was very dangerous because it's friable rock. 

It's another world, and it's very spectacular. Something like 
Glacier Park. In fact, Glacier and Waterman Park are much the same. 
As far as I can make out from pictures, the Selkirks probably give 
more the feeling of the Sierra, being more craggy and pointed. But 
whenever you get into lava or sedimentary rock, you do not have the 
clean-cut form that you get with crystalline rocks. 

Now, I don't know what the Matterhorn is I think that is a 
hard metamorphic, and that's all right. I guess well, a geologist 
might scold me I refer to a very hard, flinty rock. In Hawaii 


Adams: everything is lava. The Rocky Mountains is largely rolling country 
and of sedimentary rock. It's extremely dangerous to climb on. 
You're climbing up what amounts to a rock pile that just slides 
under you. Well, the top of Rogers Peak in Yosemite Park is 
something like that. In fact, one day we got up to within two 
hundred feet of the summit, and it was just too dangerous. 

Teiser: The Grand Canyon 
Adams: That's all sedimentary. 

Teiser: I think I read somewhere that when you first saw it you were kind 
of unimpressed. 

Adams: Well, it's a totally different experience, you see. You get into 
the granite gorge in the bottom of the Grand Canyon. But 
practically all of the Southwest is layer after layer after layer 
of sedimentary and colorful rock which has been elevated. 

I'm conscious of the fact that there are tremendous mountain 
ranges all over the world. I've seen thousands of photographs. 
And I'm convinced that the Sierra is unique in structure. At 
least the Sierra seems to be the most livable range. I mean, most 
of the other mountains have terrible climates. 

Alaska weather can be excruciating! For instance, I spent 
twenty-five days in the Glacier Bay area in 1948. There were only 
five clear days the whole time. I had six fine days at Mount 
McKinley in 1947, which was absolutely unusual if you saw the 
mountain for that long a time. The Himalayas must be terrible 
sudden disastrous weather conditions. And the Alps a storm can 
come up within half an hour. A sudden shift of air, and then you 
have some serious condition. I don't know about the Caucasus 
they're probably fairly tough too, the way they look. Much of the 
Rockies and the Tetons are beautiful, but there's nothing that 
has the particular intimacy of the Sierra. Which I don't think 
of as much as mountains as natural sculpture. 

Teiser: And the vegetation? 

Adams: The vegetation's extraordinary, but we don't have these rock and 
ice challenges like they do on the great Alpine peaks. Thousands 
of feet of ice and snow. 

And the Cascades are very beautiful, and have a great rise 
above base, but they have terrible weather problems. The north 
slope of Mount Rainier has a wonderful forest. But there's just 
something about the Sierra that is extraordinary. We're intimately 
connected with it, but I think it's probably the most subtle and in 
exhaustible mountain range. It certainly is infested with more 
people than any other equivalent area now. 


Teiser: Is it? More than Yellowstone even? 
Adams: Well, Yellowstone isn't a mountain range. 
Teiser: That's right. 

Adams: There are a few small ranges in it, like the Ibex Peak area. 

Glacier Park is quite beautiful, but again, it's of sedimentary, 
stratified rock. 

[End Tape 11, Side 1] 
[Begin Tape 11, Side 2] 

Adams: I must say for the record that I've traveled very little. I've 

been in the Tetons and in the southern Rockies, and a little of the 
Sangre de Cristo, very little in the San Juan Range. Just one 
excursion into the Uintas near Salt Lake. And in the White 
Mountains, which are east of the Sierra. And then a little in the 
Southern California Sierras, which are rather dreadful. I mean, 
barren. And in the Sierra Nevada and Cascades. 

Teiser: British Columbia? 

Adams: Yes, British Columbia, Robson and Tonquin in Jasper, the Rockies. 

And then in Alaska. But never climbing mountains. I never climbed 
anything in Alaska. 


Teiser: You were in Alaska in the forties 
Adams: Two trips, 1947 and 1948. 
Teiser: How did you happen to go there? 

Adams: Part of the national park project. Glacier Bay National Monument, 
and Mount McKinley National Park. 

Oh yes, my greatest experience of all, I guess, was flying 
from Ketchikan over the coast range at Sunset. We came up to 
Juneau, leaving Ketchikan at 10:30 p.m. 

We left in the Fish and Wildlife plane. We got off at four 
in the morning, my son Mike* and I. (He was just a kid.) The 
governor had arranged for us to go on the first flight of the Fish 
and Wildlife plane, which was the survey flight to see if a lot of 

*Michael Adams. 


Adams: fishermen in these bays and inlets were really behaving. And this 
was a Grumman Amphibian. It was the first time Mike had ever been 
in a plane. And the takeoff, with the two big motors right over 
head, is extremely noisy, and Mike maybe that started him out on 
his flying career his eyes nearly popped out of his head. 

We took off from Juneau and went over, within a few hundred 
feet of the mountain range to the east, looked down and could see 
bear and other game in the meadows. Well, it got very rough and 
the wind gusty, and we kept on making landings in all these little 
sounds and bays and taxiing up to people in boats and asking for 
their fishing licenses. This is the first day of the season; did 
they have it? And when they didn't have it they got a citation. 
Then we'd take off for more victims. 

Starting at four in the morning, remember the sun was quite 
high. So we got all the way down to Ketchikan about two in the 
afternoon. Had lunch, and then the crew disappeared for two or 
three hours on business. As we landed at Ketchikan, which was the 
first time we landed on the ground, the pilot discovered that the 
maintenance man had forgotten to put any hydraulic fluid in the 
left wheel plunger. Now, if you've been in a Grumman, there's 
only about two or three feet distance between the ground and the 
fuselage, and these little wheels come down without much space to 

Our pilot was extremely good, and as soon as he landed he knew 
something was wrong, so he gunned the plane up, and he said, "Will 
you all get over on the right side and keep your weight on that 
side? I have plunger trouble, and we'll make a landing on one 
wheel," which we did. And finally came down, and the pontoons on 
the wings on the right side bounced. Then he tried to get it fixed 
there and couldn't; they didn't have the right equipment to get the 
fluid into the cylinder. So we had to take off on one wheel, and we 
all had to stay over on the right side. I really was a little 
worried there, because at a high speed you can get a ground loop. 
But we took off; it was very late in the day ten o'clock. We flew 
up the coast range at evening sunset, right along the crest. It 
was just like the Sierra during the Ice Age. You'd see things like 
Half Dome emerging from the ice and many beautiful peaks and the 
incredible color of sunset and all these big glaciers, you know, 
flowing down to the sea. 

We landed at Juneau at about 11:30 p.m. That was really a 

I had another flight with an exploration party. This was the 
supply plane, and these people were surveying and traveling all 
around some of these very high peaks of the coast range. The 
function of this plane was to drop supplies at certain locations. 


Adams: The explorers had put out a red-orange cloth on the snow. You'd 
see this little speck. Then we'd fly over and drop the load of 

I was in one of the compartments with a big sliding floor over 
it, roped in, trying to get pictures. We went around these big 
peaks, and all of a sudden it grayed over. 

When you're in snow country and the sky goes gray, you don't 
know whether you're at six hundred feet or six feet or six thousand'. 
In such conditions the rule is to get out as quick as you can. 

The same thing happens in very still water. If the amphibian 
plane comes down in still water, you can't tell how far up you are. 
We had to throw wads of newspaper around in Glacier Bay a couple of 
times, to know what the elevation was. 

Teiser: To make the water ripple? 

Adams: No, to give an object that you can focus on. In that case, they 

put the nose of the plane up and just drift in, and the tail of the 
plane hits first and you hear a hissing sound. But you can't tell 
much. You're going too fast to see anything if your paper goes by. 

So that was quite a flight. And then we had several flights 
into Glacier Bay and several places where we had to go up and down 
and taxi on the water and see if there was no ice. Because a 
relatively small piece of ice can do an awful lot of damage to the 
plane's fuselage. 

But flying in Alaska is just like taking a taxi. There's no 
other way. Well, I suppose there is, but to walk in the tundra 
and the wet stuff or go by boat oh, terrific! It's a long way. 

Aerial Photography 


Adams : 


Have you done much aerial photography? 

Well, no, I can't say much. I've done some, and the two things I 
did in Fiat Lux were the rice fields in the northern Sacramento 
Valley and the freeway in Los Angeles. I'm very happy about those; 
they're very good. 

You must have been low over the freeway. 


Adams: I was, illegally, two thousand feet down, and we were flying with a 
good pilot, and when 1 told him what I wanted, he said, "Well, 
these regulations; okay if they don't watch you too closely." The 
police helicopter passed under us about 150 feet below, enough to 
rock the plane, and he said, "Well there's no point in immediately 
going up now. They've got me if they're going to get me, so just 
go ahead and do this job." 

So we were going right over the crowded freeway. I kept 
thinking, "A single-engine plane!" If that motor had conked out, 
where would we have landed? I was very glad to get back to Santa 
Monica. He never got a citation. [Laughter] 

Teiser: Do you use ordinary equipment or aerial ? 

Adams: I have Louise Boyd's Fairchild aerial camera, which she used in 
Greenland. She used it mostly for five by seven stills on the 
ground. With a complete set of magnificent filters (optical-flat 
filters). But now with cameras like the Hasselblad, and the 
beautiful lenses and filters and a little high-wing plane, you can 
do awfully well. Of course now, photogrammetry surveying and really 
accurate mapping stuff that requires very precise equipment and 
materials. The slit photography is terrific. There's electronic 
sensors that pick up patterns of objects, a difference of light and 
shade on the ground, compute them, and establish the speed of the 
plane, and that controls the speed of the film moving by the slit. 
And at sixty thousand feet you can see gravel between railroad ties. 
But that takes special ultra-thin emulsions and extreme precision of 

I can't call myself an aerial photographer at all. I think I 
would like it, but you see, when you're working that way you have 
to have a high-wing plane and you usually take the door off. And 
you have to keep the camera out of the slip stream. The novices 
would go up with, say, something like a Speed Graphic, and they'd 
just get so excited they'd lean out, and the slip stream hits the 
camera and WOW away goes the bellows! [Laughter] But in a certain 
space you don't feel the air at all, you see. But if you put your 
hand out too far you may break your wrist, even at ordinary speeds. 

Ever put your hand out driving a car on the highway on a hot 
day? Well, that's nothing, but if you were going 150 miles per 
hour and more, you can break your arm. 

Teiser: Do you know the photographer who's been taking aerial pictures of 
the Bay Area? He lives in the East Bay. 

Adams: Well, there's a Sunder land. 
Teiser: Yes, Clyde Sunder land. 


Adams: He is a very factual, an extremely competent record photographer. 
The greatest aerial artist is Bill Garnett. Nobody can touch 
Garnett. He doesn't do the ordinary kind of work, you see. 
Sunderland is a person that will make you a completely accurate 
aerial survey or photograph. Then there's a man named Bob [Robert] 
Campbell who has done some perfectly beautiful things of salt flats 
and other subjects. Creative photography in the air is a terribly 
important phase of the medium. 

In fact, Bill Garnett is somebody who is worthy of an 
autobiographic approach, because there's nobody who can touch him 
anywhere. There's never been any aerial pictures made that are as 
beautiful and as convincing. What he does with the natural forms! 
He pilots his own plane. He's a very fine flyer. 

You see, when I'm photographing, I'm sitting with the pilot, 
and I'll say, "Now, I think it's coming! Now, you turn a little 
to the left and then bank." Well, if he's sympathetic, he knows. 
But you know you don't drive a plane like an automobile. By the 
time you say those things you're quite a little ways off. So 
getting a few pictures may mean a four-hour flight. The pilot 
would bank, but you wouldn't get it right. And then he'd go a 
little further back, bank again, and you were too close! 

Now Bill Garnett can sit in there and he can control the plane 
with his knees and make his photographs. Because, under good 
conditions, the plane can drift and float along if you're a good 
enough pilot to pull it out of a spin, etc. 

The plane becomes part of the creative instrument, and that's 
the important thing about Bill. In all my experience, and I've 
seen thousands of pictures, there's nobody that can come anywhere 
near him in the aesthetic command of his subject. 

Teiser: Does he work in black and white? 

Adams: Yes, and in color. Beautiful stuff. Lives up in Napa; Congress 

Valley Road. Teaches design at the University of California. Doing 
a wonderful job. I'd really recommend him as somebody to be 

There are some other aerial photographers, but for some reason 
or other they don't "click;" I guess it's a matter of anticipation, 
because things happen pretty fast. Garnett has a picture of an 
estuary that looks just like the branching of a tree. A most 
beautiful thing. My friend [David H.] McAlpin has got one. It's a 
print about twenty-four by thirty-six inches all black and white, 
on a black block. Something like that monument in 2001! And all it 
is is just these lines, and the estuary, the light shining on the 




water, just like a great branching tree. It was an absolutely 
honest photograph; there's no retouching. And then he did the 
one of the birds flying against the water. It's in [This Is] The 
American Earth. And the great picture of Los Angeles that 
terrifying perspective. 

Oh yes. In the same book. 

But I can't begin to tell you how great I think he is. 
one of the great living artists . 

I think he's 

But you can't count me as an aerial photographer at all. I've 
written a little chapter on some of the technical elements, which 
are very simple. I think the technical point is very simple to 
manage, but the aesthetic getting the moment and the point of 
view. .. .You're moving at a fairly high speed and the closer you 
are to the object, the shorter the exposure must be. You have to 
use filters to cut your blue atmospheric haze. You have to use 
rather high speed film, with a four times filter, and you have to 
develop for more than normal contrast because contrast lessens as 
you go higher. You can get poor image quality in black and white, 
and lots of grain. 

Now, in color you don't have high speeds, but the aerial 
lenses, the lenses that are corrected for infinity, work best at 
very large apertures say up to f/2 or 2.8 and that permits you 
to make short-exposure photographs. I have this new Hasselblad 
with a 100 millimeter lens, which is corrected for extreme 
definition. Al Weber uses it, and he said there's nothing like it 
at all. Use the lens wide open, at f/4, and it's absolutely 
diamond sharp; the lens is designed for infinity function. There's 
no focussing. Everything has to be very accurate at infinity. But 
if you use a monochromatic filter, like a red, green, or blue, 
you'll get an extremely sharp image, with single-component lenses 
which are not corrected for chromatic aberration. 

I have a picture taken in Tuolumne Meadows of a skier coming 
down Lembert Dome; it's done on orthochromatic film with a Graphic 
camera and a Kodak Zeiss Tessar lens. It is incredibly sharp. 
When I tried to use that lens on panchromatic film it was terrible, 
because it wasn't corrected in the red area of the spectrum. In 
other words, it focussed the reds at a different plane, so every 
thing was fuzzy, you see. So with panchromatic film I'd have to 
use with it a minus-red filter, keeping the transmission 
orthochromatic (blue and green), and I'd get a very sharp image. 

There's all these little things that a lot of people don't 


and the Sit 

Teiser: This is our copy of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada that, you see, 
has been well used. Would you go over it with us? 

Adams: Yes. [Looking at book] Well, what I did with this book was to 
consider the whole Sierra Nevada system. But the fact is that 
when we think about our boundaries of the national parks, they 
don't have any reality in nature. You know, the system is: here's 
the ocean, and the rivers go back into the mountains. So the 
pictures are in order of John Muir's experience he came in to San 
Francisco from the sea. This first one is taken before the Bridge 
was built 1932 or '33.* And that's one of the worst reproductions 
ever made of "The Golden Gate." 

And the second one is a foothill in the coast range, not too 
far from here. ["In the Mount Diablo Range, near Pacheco Pass"] 
It's not near Pacheco Pass, that's a mistake. It's about fifty 
miles south, but it's in the same country. 

And then, here's the great San Joaquin Valley, with these 
storm clouds ["Rain Clouds Over the San Joaquin Valley"]. And John 
Muir went through that when it was a garden of wild flowers. 

Teiser: Did you just happen upon that? 

Adams: We were driving, and I suddenly saw it; I get out and make a 

photograph. This is a very rich image, but these are, might I say, 
lousy reproductions I The Land of Little Rain is much better. 

But you see, here, I've seen the Golden Gate, now I'm crossing 
the coast range, then into the San Joaquin Valley, then into the 
foothills of the Sierra. And these statements [quotations printed 
on the pages opposite the photographs] of course are from Muir. 
And this ["Slate Outcroppings , Sierra Foothills"] is on the way to 
Yosemite. He probably passed this way with his sheep. And here are 
sheep ["Flock of Sheep, Sierra Foothills"]. This happens to be a 
little further north; it may be fifty miles north of Yosemite, but 
it's you know exactly the same kind of country. And this again 
["Dead Oak Tree, Sierra Foothills, Above Snelling"] is very typical 
of the country near Hornitos, above Snelling. 

*It is dated 1932 in the book. 


Adams: Then the first view of Yosemite; this is taken from a point about 
a thousand feet west of the tunnel, in a thunderstorm ["Yosemite 

And then you come into the detail of the valley, in autumn 
["Cathedral Rocks, Autumn Tree, Yosemite Valley"], and the Merced 
River cascades ["River Cascade, Yosemite Valley"]. And a very 
tranquil scene, of which I have several variations ["Late Autumn 
Evening, Merced Canyon West of Ribbon Creek, Below Yosemite Valley"]. 
This isn't the best one. Down in the Merced Canyon in autumn. All 
these are supposed to glow, you know, showing separate leaves and 

And "El Capitan;" "Three Brothers;" "Cascade Fall;" floor of 
the valley ["On the Floor of Yosemite Valley"]. The lower valley 
in winter ["Winter, Yosemite Valley"], a horrible reproduction; just 
unbelievably bad. 

Teiser: How does the original differ from that? 

Adams: Well, the original is a very rich, subtle photograph, with all the 
whites separated. All this snow gleams. All this snow white is 
different from the clouds. This is just one of the worst repro 
ductions you can imagine. 

"Nevada Fall" is fair, but perfectly flat light. Even in the 
print it's very difficult to get water texture, because it's 
absolutely "flat." And you see the rainbow it's 40 in angle to 
the sun, so the shadow of your head would be down about here. And 
I have to tell you about an experience something that has to be 
seen, because it's hard to describe. But, if you put your left 
thumb to your nose and make a gesture which is considered rather 
vulgar, then take the thumb of the right hand and put it to the 
little finger of the left and stretch it at right angles to your 
left hand, it will describe a 40 arc. Now, if your hands are 
small or big, as long as they're the same size, it doesn't make 
any difference. But you can find out where a rainbow is going to 
be. Because if you point this finger at the shadow of your head, 
here is the rainbow area at 40 plus or minus. [Laughter] 

Well, we had an experience when I was doing that one time at 
Bridalveil Falls, all alone. And I thought, "I have two or three 
hours to wait." I could see that, because it would take quite a 
time to get the rainbow anywhere near the falls. I was describing 
the arc (I think it's 42.3, something like that. I'm not that 
accurate). I turned around, and here are two elderly ladies 
looking at me in amazement. And I said, "I'm just trying to find a 
rainbow." Whereupon they stepped back two or three paces. I said, 
"No, really. I'll give you the technique." So they both came over. 
And I said, "Now you see the shadow of your head. Now you put your 


Adams: finger up here, right along the eye, and your little finger is right 
on the shadow of your head, and now do this, and right where the 
little finger is, is the arc of the rainbow." Well, that was 
interesting. They were doing it. Then we turned around, and a 
whole busload of people had arrived, and they were all looking at 
us with their mouths open, you know, and I said to them, "We're 
just trying to find rainbows," whereupon they all got back in the 
bus and went off. [Laughter] That's a true story; it was one of 
the funniest things. 

Well, number seventeen ["Crags on the South Wall, Yosemite 
Valley"] is just crags on the south side of Yosemite Valley. This 
is Glacier Point. Then the Mariposa Grove in winter. More Yosemite 
in the spring ["Yosemite Fall, Orchard in Blossom"]. Back to 
Yosemite in winter ["North Dome, Winter"], with a detail ["Winter 
Forest"]; sunset clouds ["Storm Clouds"]. 

I guess we decided on sequence on an aesthetic basis. Dogwood 
["Dogwood Blossoms"]; top of Yosemite Fall ["Yosemite Fall"]. These 
are all Yosemite, and it goes on for quite a little while until you 
begin to get in the High Sierra 

V. Adams: [Comes in] This is Liliane De Cock. 

Adams: She's worked with me more than nine years, you know. She married 
Douglas Morgan, my publisher. She's doing a wonderful job. She's 
been working on my monograph. 

[Back to book] Well, "Merced River Below Merced Lake," 
different forests, Half Dome in a storm. Then there's just a few 
of the High Sierra, which we feel, if we do it again, must be in 
better balance. 

Teiser: You'd put more of the High Sierra in? 

Adams: I think I would. Lyell Fork of the Merced. Tenaya Lake again; 

Big Trees, Merced Lake I look at it now and I don't see why I made 
this particular sequence. 

That's the most beautiful juniper I guess there is, up in 
Triple Peak Canyon ["Juniper, Upper Merced Canyon"]. Nobody ever 
sees it. I'd like to go up again. Tuolumne Meadows, and then it 
goes on into higher country. Now it goes over the Tuolumne Pass, 
which is to the south, and Merced Canyon. This is typical ["Grove 
of Lodgepole Pine"]. 

Here comes "Banner Peak and Thousand Island Lake," a hideous 
reproduction again! And Mono Lake on the east side. Then we go 
way down south, you see. Mount Williamson on the east side. Moro 
Rock in Sequoia. 


Telser: How did that book get started? Did the publishers ask you for it? 

Adams: Yes. Well, it was done with Hough ton Mifflin 

Teiser: There's a review of it here from the San Francisco Chronicle . 

Adams: Oh, I didn't see that. Let me see. 

Teiser: Joseph Henry Jackson wrote it. I think he must have reviewed all 
your work. 

Adams: Yes, he was very good to me. 

Incidentally, you see how this clipping yellows. That's 
because of the sulphur content of the pulp paper. [After reading 
it] Yes, that's a nice review. Can you make me a copy of that 
some time, because I really don't think I have one. 

Teiser: Sure. 

Adams: Well, I think the books in the main have been successful, but it 

wasn't until considerably later years when we really began to think 
of fine reproductions. That's when the "My Camera" series came, 
My Camera in Yosemite Valley, then My Camera in Point Lobos by 
Edward Weston, then My Camera in the National Parks. These were 
done by the H.S. Crocker Company beautiful press work, and the 
engravings were done by Walter Mann, with Mr. Raymond Peterson in 
charge. Now, I think we've mentioned this before, but these were 
really milestones, because I still think they're the best letter 
press engravings ever made. 

But letterpress is now passe and hardly anybody knows how to 
use it, and the two-plate offset is far superior as far as tone 
control. So these books, if they're republished, would be done in 
offset. By somebody of George Waters 's quality. 

Teiser: Do various people do press work for George Waters? 

Adams: No, he is a producer. In other words, he makes the plates and does 
the actual printing. Now, we did a big advertising campaign for the 
Wolverine people [Wolverine World Wide Inc.], and he made negatives 
for them. 

Teiser: Oh yes. I sent in a dollar for a poster-size reproduction of one. 

Adams: Wolverine had four thousand orders on that first advertisement 

extremely satisfying, you know. Waters didn't do that. He did the 
catalogue. (I have to give you one of the catalogues.) He did the 
plates for that, but they had to be printed in the East. Very 


Adams: complicated. He did the negatives from the prints. Then the 
negatives go off and are "separated" and printed by whatever 
printer does the job. This one was printed in Michigan. Then 
Waters made the negatives for the advertisement, which they would 
take and enlarge to any size they want. So he was trying to 
capture my photograph the quality which he could do better than 
a person who didn't understand it. But the reproduction in [the 
advertisement in] Life and so on was lousy anyway, so it really 
doesn't make much difference, you know. 

And those plates go out as paper matrices, usually, and of 
course, Life is printed in quite a few places simultaneously. And 
you know, when you get Time and Life out here, you get advertise 
ments relating to the West Coast, and if you're in the Midwest, you 
get advertisements relating to the Midwest, and so on in the East 
and Europe. 

It's a very complicated thing. The pattern is set up and 
there's so many pages of ads, which are made up in the particular 
area, which fit into the main plates which come from the main 
editorial office. 

Teiser: I think the reproduction that I saw was in the Examiner Sunday 
gravure section recently. 

Adams: Oh, was it there? 

Teiser: And I thought it came out quite well. 

Adams: I've only seen the one in Life. But they spent a fantastic amount 
of money on these advertising campaigns. I guess that one page in 
Life was probably $45,000, just for that issue. 

Teiser: But what a wonderful way to advertise! 

Adams: They're very good. And then that little column off to one side. 
We're hoping we can continue. 

Yosemite Photography Workshops 

Teiser: Back to Yosemite do you want to start now or do you want to leave 
this for tomorrow or the next day? We'd like to ask you about the 
history of the workshops when they started and how they've gone, 
and so forth; who's been involved. 

Adams: [Somewhat tentatively] I think I can do that. 


Teiser: The brochure says this is the twenty-sixth year, which would make it 

Adams: Well, no; before the war [World War II], I think, several times we 
had what was called the "U.S. Camera, Ansel Adams, Yosemite 
Photographic Forum." Dorothea Lange and Edward Weston, Rex Hardy 
and myself. We had quite a group. 

Teiser: What's happened to Rex Hardy? 

Adams: He was here the other day. Lives in England. Is going to move 
back here. 

We had a big enrollment. And then Hitler invaded something, 
and that put on a war scare, so the enrollment was cut down by half; 
yet it was satisfactory. Nothing further happened until after the 
war. Then we revised it, which I would say was in when was the 
war over? 

Harroun: Forty- five. 

Adams: I think we had the first one in '46. It's been a continuous 

enterprise since, plus several others in the year. Now we have 
this June one coming, and Al Weber has a print one in August, and I 
have another one in the end of September. But I'm going to have to 
back out of it soon and let other people do it more and more. But 
the main June workshop is very closely associated with me. 

Liliane [De Cock] came out all the way from Scarsdale; she's 
going to teach. And Barbara Morgan's coming her mother-in-law 
and a great photographer. 

Teiser: Originally, then, it was cosponsored by U.S. Camera? 

Adams: The first one was U.S. Camera, with a very elaborate folder. They 
had, you know, a magazine. 

Teiser: Did you have a big turnout then? 

Adams: Well, we had sixty-plus enrolled. Then, as I said, the war had 
started in Europe, and it cut down enrollment to less than half. 
Eastern people were too scared. Because it was pretty precarious 
when Hitler started invading Sudetenland and Austria, etc. 

Teiser: Did Edward Weston start teaching again after the war, then? 

Adams: No. 

Teiser: Was he a good teacher for groups of that sort? 


Adams: No. He was a very bad teacher, but a wonderful person for an 

example. You see, he was like Brett [Weston], his son. Now, Brett 
doesn't impart any detailed information. He has no technical 
knowledge; he just has his own extraordinary intuitive way. He 
goes out with a camera and he sees things the way he sees them, and 
lets people look through the ground glass of the big camera it's 
quite a thrilling experience. But technically he prides himself 
on not being able to add five and four, you know. Many artists do 
that. But he's perfectly capable of doing it. 

Teiser: Did Dorothea Lange have the same sort of individual approach? 

Adams: No, her approach was "seeing" and people the social, human meaning 
of photographs. Extremely important. Barbara Morgan I don't 
suggest her as a teacher in the technical sense, but she inspires 
people; she comments on their work. She speaks of feeling; she 
talks about the intangibles. And those people are just as important 
[as those who discuss technical matters.] 

Teiser: What did Rex Hardy do? 

Adams: Well, Rex was sort of a journalist type. 

Teiser: Did he teach classes, or did he work with individuals? 

Adams: Well, you see, we don't work that way. We have groups, seminars 
we play it by ear. And the most important thing is to be in the 
field. A person has a problem, so you help him out with it. Then 
the instructor gives some talks. He can talk about artificial 
light, and the small camera, or anything in his field. This year, 
we have quite a variety of very good people. We have Dorr Bothwell, 
the painter. She's very stimulating. 

Teiser: Has she been participating for many years? 

Adams : Yes , quite a few years . 

Teiser: Your assistant, Gerry Sharpe ? 

Adams: Yes, unfortunately for us all, she died. 

Teiser: Could you speak a little about her? 

Adams: Gerry was an extremely gifted gal. She had psychological troubles 
in adjusting the creative world to the real world. But she was an 
extraordinary, fine photographer. She had a little more technical 
knowledge than people give her credit for having. She knew. Her 
negatives and pictures were always pretty much "there." There 
wasn't a lot of trial and error in her work. And she had this very 


Adams: important, rather impressive emotional feeling about things. Her 
greatest ability was to sit down with an individual and talk about 
their work. And they'd go away just simply inspired, because she 
could really dig into them, if you want to use the term. "Why did 
you do this?" she'd say. "Why did you see it this way?" You know, 
talk back and forth, instead of being didactic. She got a 
Guggenheim, and she went to Ghana, and was starting in on really a 
very important program, and made some beautiful photographs, and 
then was involved in a tragic accident. A doctor was driving out 
to some village in a Volkswagen, and they hit a truck, and she 
nearly lost her leg, and was laid up in a hospital there for weeks. 
Then she came home and almost died; tropical injuries are bad. 
That sort of knocked everything out of her. I mean, she never 
really regained the impulse to create. Finally, she had a job in 
the Winterthur Museum [Wilmington, Delaware], but I think the 
bottle got the best of her and she just couldn't stand being 
restricted to a job. She was born in New Jersey, but came west with 
the idea of spending her life photographing early Americana. Her 
disability really got her down, and then the decline started, and 
she just kept drinking, and that was the end of it. 

It's typical of very gifted people who can't relate to the 
realities of life. Her photographs are quite remarkable. We were 
very fond of her, and her passing was a great loss. 

Teiser: You've had some very talented people 

Adams: Well, Liliane is just marvelous. She has a Guggenheim fellowship 

now, you know. Right after she was married she got that. That was 
too much. Her husband figured it out that she'd worked for me nine 
years, three months, two weeks and three days. She knew where 
everything was. But she's quite a creative person easily one of 
the best of the younger people. 

And Don Worth worked for me for several years. He's a very 
fine photographer. He teaches art at San Francisco State University. 

Teiser: I remember a picture of his of your lighted studio window, from 

Adams: I happen to have a very fine personal collection of photographs. 

Never realized what I had. But the Lands very kindly gave us some 
Clarence Kennedy portfolios. That in itself is very important. And 
then I have all the portfolios of Weston, Minor White, Don Worth, 
Dick Julian. Then all kinds of individual prints. [Charles] 
Sheeler et al. And I have early Brady images my prints, though. 
I have daguerreotypes. I don't know what to do with them. 


Adams: I should get an interne, a young person from a college who's 
studying photography, and have him come and analyze them and 
catalogue them and document them, because you know, a thing like 
that is an awful job. Then the next step is the evaluation; then 
the next step is what to do with them. 

Teiser: I trust they're all dated.' 

Adams: Not too many. I'm not the only one that fails on datingl [Laughter] 

Well, let's see the workshops at first we had only the June 
one. Then we decided that when we put in the new darkroom. .. .The 
government gave us the renewed fifteen-year contract, and they 
always require improvements. We have spent quite a little money 
improving the studio and putting in a darkroom, which is a very 
good darkroom, especially as a teaching and demonstration one. 

There's no reason why we couldn't have workshops and groups 
the whole year, but I myself have to withdraw from that because it's 
just too much. To get good photographers to come up and conduct 
workshops is our present plan. All I can say is I'm the general 
director and I'm not going to let some inferior operation go on. 
Al Weber, who lives here, is one of our staff members, and he's a 
very good photographer. He's having a workshop in August, and 
we're going to develop him more. And we're getting in the fall 
workshops. We're getting a great variety of photographers, like 
Wynn Bullock, and Jerry Uelsman, and top names to come. 

And then the Friends of Photography of course that's another 
subject. Maybe you'd better put that down as a separate subject, 
because that ties into the theory of the f/64; really it's the 
latter-day f/64 group, but with a modern slant, as far as I'm 

So let me see what would be logical? Oh, I might say that I 
have given workshops in the Museum of Modern Art, and the museum 
in Memphis, and Rochester, and many other places. Workshops last 
sometimes a week, sometimes they're just two days. I hate the term 
"workshop," but there's no other term in the language that seems to 
cover exactly what that means. Because a seminar's something where 
a whole group of people get together and exchange ideas. In the 
Friends of Photography we say we're having an "event," but that's 
very ambiguous too. 

Teiser: The word has become so closely associated with these workshops, 
you'd have a hard time changing it now, I should think. 

Adams: Yes there are so many hundreds of workshops given, and there's 

such a fantastic interest in photography. It's a whole new world. 
It's really a tremendous thing, and relates to thousands of people. 


Adams: Of course, the basic idea is that photography is a language; you 
have the aesthetic approach, and the documentary, and the 
journalistic, and the scientific, and many other categories. We 
use the English language to depict the world in the written word. 
We have also the photographic language to express the visual 
world. And the audio-visual world well, all colleges, schools, 
institutions, companies, all have what is usually called the 
audio-visual department. It's a fantastic growth. I mean it's 
an industry, something that represents untold millions of dollars 
and hundreds of thousands of people working, making slides, 
documentary records, etc. 

I'm not plugging anybody, but the Bell & Howell people have 
just come out with this new copy machine, which happens to cost 
seven hundred and something dollars, but it is fantastic in the 
sense that it makes copies of anything in just a few seconds. It 
makes transparencies for what they call "overhead projection work." 
You can make a transparency, and in about two or three minutes have 
a hundred or two hundred ditto copies, which you can put in the 
hands of the audience while you're projecting images on the screen. 
It's one of the great, I think, steps forward, because it's not 
litho reproduction, but it is a quick means of communicating type 
written pages, copies, letters, even pictures in a crude sense. 
Many advanced duplicating systems are being developed. 

[End Tape 11, Side 2] 

Skill in Music and Photography 

[Interview X 3 June 1972] 
[Begin Tape 12, Side 1] 

Teiser: ...then your career in music and your career in photography have 
been related? 

Adams: Yes. Well, I think it was Wilenski who said that all art is the 
expression of the same thing. But actually, I don't necessarily 
subscribe to what would you call it? a two-dimensional, mystical 
relationship because when we start reading qualities of one art 
into another, we get in trouble. It's like when we try to talk 
about pictures, or when people give literary titles to music, like 
the Moonlight Sonata. 

I think I mentioned once that Huneker criticism of the B flat 
minor Sonata of Chopin, which contains the Funeral March (the 
"Marche Funebre") , which is really the stylistic interpretation in 
the Adagio, but which is used as a funeral march. It was not Chopin's 
intention that it be played with a brass band and used in a procession 




Adams : 





Hunneker accepted that Romantic interpretation, and then said the 
last movement, which is Presto Furioso, I think, is the "night 
winds rushing over the graves." Well, that kind of relationship 
to me is completely nauseating. I mean [laughs] it's a concept to 
which I can't possibly relate. What happened is that the expressive 
capacities of the music were undoubtedly damaged by literary 
interpretation. But the best thing, the thing that probably saved 
me, was the strict discipline involved in music that automatically 
carried over into the photography. There was no such thing as 
"schools" in photography at that time. It was a very sloppy art, 
and only a very few people gave it any critical or technical 
dignity. There was no training in photography to speak of. 

So I could have been a real "sloppy Joe" photographically, if 
it hadn't been for the discipline which is absolutely required for 

When you first started taking photographs and doing your own 
printing, did you print and print and print from the same negative 
to teach yourself how to do it? 

Oh yes. Well, in the first period, it was empirical trial and 
error, over and over and over, until I got some results. Then 
later on, when I established the technical basis of the Zone 
System, then I knew much better what I was doing. But I still 
have to print quite a number of times to get the expressive result, 
because you can't put that on a slide rule. The fact is that it is 
so completely subtle, you can't really physically describe it. 

You said yesterday that Mr. Mazzeo was a good photographer and not 
a very good painter. 

Well, I'll put it this way: his prints in no way come up to what 
he sees. Now, this "seeing" is used in quotes. As Edward Weston. 
would say, the "seeing" is not adequate, or the "seeing" is great. 
As I've mentioned before, the internal event and the external event 
are so terribly important. And with people like Mazzeo being 
interested in birds and things the external event is really what 
interests him. He does pictures because the subject interests him, 
and he conveys the subject. But he doesn't have the design sense 
that Brett Weston has or Edward Weston had, for whom the photograph 
becomes an object and not just a record of a subject. It becomes 
something in itself. But Mazzeo is a great musician! I 

Are there people who can make a good negative but can't print it, 
and people who can print but not make a good negative? 

Well, put it this way: there are many people who could make 
absolutely adequate negatives with no expressive intention. And it 
comes down to a complicated thing: your visualization is in relation 


Adams: to the final Image, and it usually works out that the person doesn't 
make a good negative because he's failed in some way to visualize. 
Then in some way, by hook or crook, he does the best he can in the 
darkroom, you see. 

I have many very bad negatives that I can take to the darkroom 
and really do a lot to bring up some expressive quality. But I can 
have an absolutely perfect negative, and if I didn't have the 
feeling or the sensitivity, simply nothing would happen. In many 
cases I've taken other people's photographs, like some of the early 
photographs, and have made prints which were, frankly, much better 
than anything they made technically, because I have better materials 
and controls than they had. 

When I say better, I mean the print had more impact. And I 
know that Bill Webb has done the same thing with the [Adam Clark] 
Vroman negatives. He's made really wonderful images; much better 
images than Vroman ever made. And in my case, the two examples are 
the San Francisco fire and the Chinatown street of Arnold Genthe. 
Genthe's prints are notoriously weak and fuzzy and (quote) "artistic" 
(unquote). And it's the same thing with his records of the fire. 
They're pretty tough; some of those negatives are very, very bad. 

Teiser: How about O'Sullivan? Did you improve ? 

Adams: I never worked with any O'Sullivan negative. I certainly improved 
on the Bradys, but I never printed any O'Sullivan or Jackson. I 
printed some Wittick, Brady [pause] well, when we say Brady, we 
don't know who it could be any one of his photographers. 

You see, Brady was a promoter, not a photographer. He had a 
business called Matthew Brady, and he employed photographers. And 
on the envelopes of all these negatives that were put in the 
National Archives were written the name of the photographer. But 
he never gave them credit in the published work. Only more recent 
historians have done that. 

But Roy Stryker, when he took on the farm resettlement project 
you know, the big "dust bowl" job always gave the photographers 
leading credit. It would be a photograph of such and such "by 
Walker Evans, Farm Security Administration Historical Project, Roy 
Stryker, director." That was the way it would be documented the 
photographer always got the leading line. 

Teiser: I'm sorry, I took you away from 
Adams: The music 

Teiser: You were telling us yesterday, after we were taping, about the kind 
of pianist you were and are, and how your technique differs from 


Adams: Well, probably that sounded a little too pompous. The fact remains 
that I have a very light hand. I have an ideal violin hand. And 
my very good friend, Cedric Wright, who was a violinist, had an 
ideal piano hand we should have grafted them. [Laughs] 

In any event , my technique was based largely on the dynamic 
finger action. I think it would be called the Leschetizky method. 
Now that goes back to the turn of the century, and the fundamental 
technical pattern is that you lift, strike, and relax. You 
practice hours: you lift, strike, and relax, until it becomes 
absolutely free. If you lift, strike, and hold down, you 
immediately tighten; then you have no flexibility. 

Then the same thing would apply to the wrist for certain 
things. Now, there's a difference in the relaxing it would be 
legato (because the key is held down), or it would be a portamento, 
or it would be a staccato. Then to reinforce the sound, I would 
bring in some weight. But, there are whole schools of weight 
playing in which you sort of "pour in" your weight. You see people 
using shoulder or arm, and that almost invariably results in less 
brilliance of tone. The ideal situation is that you balance them 
out your weight and your dynamics depending on your hand structure. 

Now, Victor Babin, the late pianist, he was really marvelous. 
He had very large hands. And he had complete control magnificent 
finger action and complete weight control. And he could produce 
the most incredible sounds! 

Harold Bauer, when he was playing a concerto with an orchestra, 
could actually imitate the quality of an instrument. If a flute 
or string passage was to come, say with a Schumann concerto, his 
piano would take on that quality. Now it's all illusionary, 
because it really can't imitate; it still is a percussion instrument. 
But it isn't the way you hit one key; it's the time, the dynamics, 
in which you hit the next key. 

You see, there's no real way in which you can change the sound 
of the piano at all. Now, the harpsichord is different; you strike 
it and you can vibrate, and you can get a little pulse in the sound. 
But the piano the hammer strikes the key and retracts. So there's 
no control but volume and the relationship to the next note. 
Intuitively, it probably could be explained. I think even [H.L.F. 
von] Helmholtz touched on that. He explained that when you strike 
a note and this depends not only on the fact that it's a piano or 
an organ, but say that it's a piano, upright, square, or grand 
when you strike that note, you have produced the fundamental tone, 
and then you have a whole series of harmonics , and those harmonics 
are not necessarily the same that you get with the open strings. 
But they're there. They're even within the part of the strings that 


Adams: are dampened. There's a very subtle resolution. And then you 
anticipate this resolution, and you play the next note; and in 
anticipating it, you also have to bring in this psychophysical law. 

So a beautiful touch is something that makes the sounds seem to 
flow with absolute completion. You don't worry about them at all. 
And a poor touch we all know what that is. It drives you up the 
wall. Because here's people playing precisely everything that's 
written, playing everything in time, in unison but they have not 
got this sense of the connecting sequence, which can't be called 
just simply "legato." It is legato, but that's too simple a term. 

And in photography, when you're photographing actions I think 
I mentioned Cartier-Bresson as anticipatory. There's a girl who's 
walking toward us, toward the camera, and I anticipate her; I want 
her at a certain place. If I wait until she's there, she's caught 
beyond! So I have to see this possibility and feel all the 
relationships. There is about one-tenth second delay between 
"seeing" and operating the shutter. 

But now getting to the music-photography relationship. I don't 
see anything except certain standards of discipline, which are 
obvious, and then standards of taste or aesthetics. It's impossible 
for me to think of people spending their lives in music and not 
having good taste in the other arts. But that is not the case, 
because I have been in music studios in New York, some of my good 
friends , very fine musicians with the worst possible furniture and 
the worst possible things on the wall you could imagine. I mean, 
absolutely no sensitivity for the visual. 

So there's nothing cut and dried in this relationship! 
Teiser: What about the very simple thing of manual dexterity? 

Adams: Finger dexterity is something which is very important well, unless 
you're crippled, as I partially am with arthritis now nobody has 
any trouble with a camera. It's rather a gross instrument in a way. 
Some people are very rough with cameras and mistreat a delicate 
instrument. That's something else. But I can still set the shutter 
with accuracy, and I can still operate the camera. I may have 
difficulty lifting it onto the tripod. The dexterity is really 
partly when you're developing films in the tray that you get a very 
sensitive feeling of the finger in handling these things. But I 
don't think being a pianist or not would have any effect on that. 

Now, if you were a watchmaker or putting a shutter together or 
something, that's another world. But I really don't think dexterity 
in general is so important . 


The Friends of Photography 

Teiser: We spoke yesterday about the Friends of Photography. Do you want 
to go into that now? 

Adams: Yes. Well, that's a continuation of my attitude towards the f/64 

group. In other words, not exactly the same motivation. But, there 
was no place, anywhere in the West, where a group of creative people 
got together. And I thought about it, and we talked about it. And 
one day Cole Weston came out; he was managing the Sunset Center [in 
Carmel]. He said, "Well, if you want to do something in photography, 
there's a space available for a gallery." And that sort of triggered 
it off, and I got ahold of Wynn Bullock and Mazzeo and a few others. 
"Let's do something about this." [Interruption] 

We saw the space, and then we got very busy and raised a 
little money, and then organized the Friends of Photography. It 
was a pro tern committee which secured the place. Our lawyer then 
drew up the articles of incorporation, which we signed, and this 
committee then became secondary to the fundamental bylaws and the 
election of officers and so on, as a charitable, tax-deductible 
institution. So we're tax-deductible. If you wish to give us ten 
thousand dollars, we'd accept it with the greatest of joy, and you 
could take it off your income tax. If you can make it more, why 
we'd much appreciate it. [Laughter] 

We've had phenomenal success with shows; we haven't any money. 
We've brought some beautiful work to the area have produced publi 
cations and two portfolios. Bill Turnage came, primarily to work 
for me, and he had several other things to manage. He acted as 
the director and really did a fantastic job in waking us up made 
a lot of us very mad because he told the truth. You know that 
usually happens. He's a mover and a shaker, and he did his job of 
organizing and telling us the truth analyzing the full situation. 
And then on Turnage 's advice we appointed Fred Parker as the 
regular executive director. He's a curator and a museum man and an 
expert in photography, and there were very, very few trained 
curators, art historians, or gallery persons in the world of 
photography to draw upon. That's one thing that we now have to 

I think that the Princeton center, which David McAlpin has just 
initiated, will start developing such people. You see, it's not 
necessary for them to be photographers. The curator of painting or 
the museum director is not necessarily a painter. But we've had 
few of these for photographers to call on, and their opinion is 
usually biased; it can't be anything else. I've tried it; I've 
run things. But it's just incredibly hard for a photographer to be 


Teiser: What is the center that McAlpin's given? 

Adams: The Princeton University Art Museum photography center. He's 

founded a chair of photography. Peter Bunnell is running it. And 
it's primarily related to the history of photography. He gave one 
million dollars, which it costs to set up a chair. People never 
think about a million dollars. What can one do with a million? 
Well, normally you have to put it in securities, and out of that, 
you get 50 percent fifty thousand a year. 

That's an irrevocable trust, and that pays Bunnell's salary 
and the space charges, and operating cost, and a secretary. You 
can't do very much with fifty thousand a year in a big institutional 
way. But you can train people who come and work through Princeton 
in the various departments. Now, of course, the term "museology" 
is really related to the physical care or the restoration or the 
analysis of paintings and works of art. A curator is somebody who 
has an art historian's knowledge in the field, you see, and cares 
for and controls the prints in relation to this knowledge. The 
museum director is somebody who just says what's going to be done. 
The curator, by the way, usually has to prepare and hang the 

But the director he has to know a lot, or should know a lot 
but he also has the administration and politics and finance on his 
neck, you see. 

Teiser: And your director of the Friends is up to all those things. 

Adams: Well we're very small. He was curator of photography at the 

Pasadena Museum. Now he could move into a position like this chair 
at Princeton. I don't think he would like it too much. His ideal 
would be the curator of photography in some big institution, say 
the Metropolitan. That would be an objective goal. But here he is 
running the exhibits, he's running the workshops and the 
publications. But it's all subject to the approval of committees 
on the board, which it should be for saving his own neck. We 
haven't disagreed yet.* But it's very important for the trustees 
to keep control. 

Some directors will say, "Well, I don't want to be subject to 
anybody. I want to run the whole thing." That's one of the worst 
things you could let anyone do. Because why not share your mistakes 
[laughs] psychologically and otherwise? But we've had a very good 
board. Liliane De Cock is on the board, for example. 

Teiser: Are most of the members on the board photographers? 

*We did later. [A. A.] 


Adams: Too many. We were practically all photographers at one time. Now 
we're stretching it more, because again, a complete board of just 
photographers is biased. And we have some members who just can't 
see any other work but their own. I mean it's very difficult for 
an exhibitor to criticize exhibits, because it doesn't look like 
the kind of photography that they believe in. Well, that's not 
our function. And Fred Parker, with his very big knowledge of 
photography, can get us exhibits of the photography of our time. 
Now, I would say that half the shows that we've had there I don't 
like, from the personal point of view. But I have no right to pass 
that judgment. I don't like Rubens, and I don't like Picasso, but 
I'm very fond of Rouault. So you wouldn't expect me, if I ran a 
museum, to concentrate on Rouault. I'd have to admit the existence 
of Picasso. [Interruption] 

Well, so the Friends are a growing institution, and of course 

I want to withdraw when it's reasonable to do so and concentrate 

on my own work. I think it's terrible for people to stay on and on 
and on and on in any institution. 

Teiser: I imagine that it wouldn't have become a real organization without 
your leadership , however 

Adams: Well, I think probably I'd have to accept that fact. Not from the 
point of view of conceit, but because of experience with the 
Museum of Modern Art and many other things of its type. The Sierra 
Club thirty-four years on the board there I learned something 
about management at the board level.' And then I'm very well known. 
So you put all these things together on a purely objective level, 
and of course I would be useful to some degree. 

Teiser: What is the geographical area of this' group? Is it really national? 

Adams: We want to make it national. We've had exhibits from all over. One 
of the things we wanted to avoid is being a camera club. Camera 
clubs are really social clubs, like little men's chowder and 
marching societies [laughter] and are not interested in photography 
as an advanced art but more as a hobby. The Photographic Society 
of America represents the camera club and hobbyist and practically 
nobody else. It's another world. It's a very difficult thing to 
explain, but you just go and look at a photographic salon by the 
pictorial group and you see a totally different thing than when you 
see a serious, creative, dedicated work. 

Teiser: There's a man in San Francisco who I think you must have known, who 
I think was a photography club man. Francis Brugiere 

Adams: Brugiere. Well now, he was rather unusual. He was quite an artist. 
But there was no outlet for photographic art, so he did function 
through the only thing that existed to function in photography the 


Adams: camera club. But he did many things with light photograms, 

reflections, abstract things that are really quite extraordinary. 

But I don't know enough about him to give you any authentic 
information. It would be like Ann Brigman, you see, who did some 
remarkable images which Stieglitz liked. But the only place she 
could show was at the camera clubs . 

Teiser: I rather suspected that Brugiere was better than most. 
Adams: Oh yes, he was very much ahead. 

Then, I forget the man that ran Camera Craft for so long. He 
was a nice man, but boy I He had what you call "Kodak taste." He 
was right down the pictorial line. 

The Friends are a going organization, we hope. I think we've 
accomplished a lot, and now photography is becoming a very big 
factor in the art world. Scores, even hundreds of college depart 
ments, hundreds of workshops some are bad, some are good, but it's 
now being recognized. 

And a museum will have a photography show. Heretofore, you'd 
have Stieglitz and Strand and Weston that would be about it. Then 
[Eliot] Porter and I got in, and some of the Europeans Cartier- 
Bresson, Andre Kertesz, a few others, but it still was always 
played pretty much on the safe side. 

Now they're really showing much younger people. Liliane's 
had some fine shows. She's got one coming up at the Amon Carter 
Museum, and I think at the Art Institute in Chicago I'm not sure. 
She's had some very good exhibits at this level of an artist, which 
is the thing that we have to maintain in photography. It's a very 
difficult point. 

You see, it's up to the photographer to maintain his work at 
the level of the artist. The painter and the sculptor automatically 
assume that they do. "I'm a sculptor I'm in the fine arts." Of 
course I might be a lousy sculptor, but still, I'm automatically 
there. A photographer never has quite that conviction. That's one 
of the reasons the insecurity why so many photographers talk so 
much. You know, to justify their own work and try to mystically 
explain the inner unmeanings. 

Teiser: .1 know the Friends of Photography is not like the Eastman House, 

Adams: The Friends of The Bancroft Library would be people who'd go out to 
raise money for the library. Well, we might have the "Friends of 
the Friends of Photography" some day. It's what we need. [Laughter] 
But there are friends of almost anything friends of the sea otter. 
It's a vague term it means supporters. 


Teiser: Well, do I remember that the Eastman House group has published and 
shown exhibits and sent exhibits around 

Adams: It's not got a big membership. It is a nonprofit membership 

institution. But they never went out after many members. They 
were very generous to their members . We were too generous in 
giving each of ours the portfolios. We had about twelve thousand 
dollars tied up in portfolios that haven't sold yet. Every member 
got a free copy. And they're beautifully reproduced. 

But you'll always find that there's something wrong with 
whatever you do. "Why did you make this selection?" "I didn't 
think that picture was any good." And the next person will say, 
"Well, I think that's one of the best things in it." When I did my 
Portfolio V it was extraordinary because there were two or three 
images which most people liked. But every one was liked by a 
number of people. And that's kind of lucky, because sometimes 
there'll be one or two that will be by-passed entirely. 

Museums and Critics 

Teiser: To go back in time to other exhibits of photographs in 1931 you 
had an exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution called "Pictorial 
Photographs of the Sierra Nevada Mountains" 

Adams: Everything is wrong: "pictorial" is wrong, "Sierra Nevada" is 
wrong, "Mountains" is wrong. [Laughs] We all use that, but 
Francis Farquhar oh, he used to go wild over that. 

Teiser: But that was what they called it. 

Adams: Well, that was just like the name they gave Parmelian Prints , I 

Teiser: Was that your first major exhibit? 

Adams: I wouldn't consider the Smithsonian at that time as having any 

status as an exhibit place. They showed curiosities and scenes and 
such things, but I don't think they had museum status. It even 
doesn't have what you'd call really museum status, although of late 
it's getting there. 

Teiser: How did they happen to know about you? 

Adams: Well, word of mouth. Francis Farquhar, somebody. Bradford 

Washburn of course had shown a lot of his Mount McKinley pictures. 
But the Smithsonian has always related more or less to science, 


Adams: travel, invention. And boy, when Beaumont [Newhall] and I went 

there, they had their exhibit of photographs of early Fox Talbots 
[photographs by William Henry Fox Talbot] up in the top floor 
under the skylight, completely unprotected. And these things 
were literally fading. And I blew my top. I said, "Beaumont, 
can't you do something about it?" He said, "You don't understand 
the museum world. I could no more go down there and criticize 
this curator!" He said, "You could," you see, because I wasn't 
in the museum world. And I wrote a very strong letter, first 
thing. I said, "As a photographer, subjecting these invaluable 
photographs, some of the most important things ever done 
subjecting them to this unfiltered light is well, it's incompre 
hensible." There were other people who were upset too. They did 
finally cover these cases with a yellow glass filter. Still it 
was a poor job. 

So then I went to Dearborn to see the Ford collection [at the 
Henry Ford Museum] of [William Henry] Jackson photographs. We were 
trying to get something for the "Brady and the American Frontier" 
exhibit. They had fourteen thousand glass plates in a loft of one 
of their big buildings, and the temperature was about 110. 
Fortunately, it was dry. But collodion won't take too much 
temperature. And I blew my top there. . I told this man, I said, 
"I think keeping these plates here is absolutely disastrous. I'm 
no chemist, but this heat is such a hazard" the sun beating on the 
roof. He said, "I think we know what we're doing, Mr. Adams." I 
said, "Well, I guess perhaps you don't. I would say this could 
lead to a most serious deterioration." Well, I wrote a letter to 
Henry Ford II about it. But you see, I'm not in the museum world; 
I was clear. I could do this. But if Beaumont [Newhall] had done 
that, he'd have been immediately blacklisted in the profession. 
Because you never criticize another curator like a doctor, you 
see. A doctor can't go and say anything negative about any other 
doctor unless he is a downright fake. But even then you have to 
be very careful. 

And when one doctor criticizes another, it's always by 
innuendo. They say, "Well, some people will go to anybody." Never 
really say that Dr. Jones is an impostor I 

But photographers among the good ones as soon as a photogra 
pher knows another one is sincere, he usually is very supportive. 
But he also can get hideously jealous. That happens in music too; 
I suppose all the arts. I know some very unfortunate high-level 
jealousy among some of the very top people. And it's purely 
psychological, because they have nothing to be jealous about. 

A lot of people are jealous of me because of my apparent 
success in selling prints. I'm not conservative in spirit. My 
work is fairly "set" you know, it's me, and it belongs to another 


Adams: and earlier period. The criticism I get quite often is that well, 
I'm dead, I'm finished. I've had people tell me that to my face. 
"Why don't you go and retire. You're through; you haven't done 
anything new for years." I say, "You're perfectly right. But I 
may." [Laughter] 

It's very hard to judge things such as methods of photography 
or any art at its own level. Another thing that's been very 
serious in the museum world is that the dealer world has been one 
of the extraordinary merchandising machines of the times. These 
people like Warhol and others will have an exhibit, and an agent 
will take them on. Now, the agent promotes them, and within a 
short time this man is the "greatest artist of our time." And 
people are like sheep. They get a page in Time. You'll see very 
often Newsweek and Time will have the same story. Now, that comes 
right out of the publicity offices. It's all very well engineered. 
And they like to come out at the same time because one doesn't want 
to follow the other. 

Then I've heard a museum man say, "Veil, I was considering 
Harry, but you know, he's about six months passe now." [Laughter] 
It's the truth. And I said to one curator, "Well, does that in any 
way influence Harry's quality?" He said, "No, but he's just dead. 
He's not up with the times, he's not with it." Well, in six months 
time, you know 

Goya is still with it. [Laughter] And El Greco is still with 
it. And I'd say that the early period of Picasso is to me 
extremely moving. And I never can accept the later period. I 
think he had his tongue in cheek in a lot of it, and I know a lot 
of contemporary art which is far more abstract and far out than 
Picasso, which moves me deeply. But again, not being a museum man, 
not being a trained art historian, I have no right to say that as 
anything more than a strictly personal reaction. 

Some say, "I don't like Joe, and I think Harry's a good guy, 
and what's the matter with Jim?" It has nothing to do with the 
real value of the people as artists. It's just their own reaction. 
And the critics! We are trying to train now in photography 
knowledgeable critics , because there are very few of them and 
many are needed. A painter cannot criticize a photograph. 

Teiser: There's Mrs. Mann? 

Adams: Oh yes, Marjorie Mann. Well, she's a psychological case. She 

writes sometimes brilliantly, but she has just decided that some 
thing's wrong in photography and she's going to set it right. I 
would say that Mann is inclined to be rather brutal and inconsiderate 
When she's writing about something she knows, she's fine, but she 
immediately tied onto the Friends of Photography as being nothing 


Adams: but an old fogey organization perpetuating the West Coast school. 
Well, she came to the first opening. We told her what we were 
going to do. And immediately she decides we show only the classics. 

Well, then she hit a couple of other shows that were of 
somewhat conservative type, and she missed all the ones that were 
highly contemporary and experimental. I think she missed the 
platinum show, which was history, and she missed the oh gosh, I 
just can't begin to tell you. So she has a total misconception. 
Now, her influence is considerable. So before Fred Parker knew 
about us, he had that impression through her writing. And then 
when he came and looked at the series of exhibits that we had, he 
said, "I want to apologize for my previous opinion. Why didn't 
somebody tell me?" 

We had Van Deren Coke class work from the University of New 
Mexico. We had the Institute of Design, we had Todd Walker we 
went all over the map; a very fine cross section of what's going 
on in photography. We had the Visual Dialogue show, with photo 
sculpture things in the round and in plastic. So one of our big 
problems is to show to the world that we have a very catholic 

But you see if you can be a belligerant critic, if you can be 
a showoff, if you can make everybody feel that you're right out 
there crusading you can get a lot of attention. 

Her [Mann's] own photographs are simply terrible the weakest 
things. I think she never should photograph. A critic should be 
absolutely objective. Most art critics are not painters they've 
studied art, they're art historians. Beaumont is a superb critic 
in photography, about the only one that really exists. 

Teiser: Does he write that analytically? 

Adams: Well, I'm trying to get him to do it, but Beaumont's a rather mild, 
kindly person, and he's interested in the history of photography, 
and for him there's no difference between the past and the present. 
It's a continuous flow. He can pick up from my work things that 
happened a hundred years ago and vice versa. Not that we're 
imitating, but it's just a broad approach to the world, you see. 

Now, a typical happening is somebody wrote me a letter: "How 
did Stieglitz get these rich qualities?" I wrote a letter back 
saying as best I could that the chances were that the rich qualities 
he saw were a psychological effect due to his wonderful sense of 
values. And I sent that letter on to Beaumont, and he was able to 
say, well, the values are a little extreme in some cases, in lantern 
slides, for example, because Stieglitz intensified them with 
mercury. But mercury isn't permanent. He didn't know it at the 
time, so all those slides are gone. 


Adams: I have some intensified in mercury and chromium that have gone too! 
It isn't permanent. It's very complex. You add mercuric salts to 
the silver, and the result is a kind of mutual deterioration. The 
negative just turns a ghastly yellow, and I don't know of any way 
to get it back. 

Teiser: I was impressed that someone writing so seriously in a popular 
photographic magazine would get as much space as Mrs. Mann has. 

Adams: Well, she approached it as a profession. 

There's [A.D.] Coleman, who writes for the New York Times, and 
he seems pretty erudite. I think he's been pretty good. 

Now, Jacob Deschin, who wrote for the [New York] Times first, 
is a very nice man, but he really knows nothing about photography. 
He really started writing about photo products. And people used to 
look at that column like we look at Herb Caen, and believe it, you 
know. A lot of people never enjoy a concert until they've read 
the paper the next morning. But of course Deschin wasn't really 
in that critical class at all. 

There's a very interesting story about Beaumont. You see, 
Nancy [Newhall] designed my big show in San Francisco [the 1963 
exhibit at the de Young Museum]. And one of the photographic 
magazines asked would Beaumont write a criticism of it. And 
Beaumont, being a professional and not having enough money, said, 
"Yes, but it must be professional." They said, "We'll pay your 
way to San Francisco as an honorarium." Which is all right. He 
said, "Now, there are my wife and one of my close friends there 
who could do it." They said, "No, no, we trust you." So he came 

Well, Beaumont wrote a perfectly beautiful analysis of the 
show and of my different periods of work and was very objective. 
He took the text to the editor, and the editor said, "Gee, this is 
pretty good writing, but can't you find anything wrong with it?" 
And Beaumont said, "Well, the function of criticism is not to find 
something wrong. It's to interpret. But," he said, "no, I can't 
find anything wrong with it. There's a few prints quite a few 
prints that I wouldn't have put in myself, but there's nothing 
wrong with it in the total sense." 

But then, it makes people feel very superior to have somebody 
say, "Well, it's obvious that Paul Strand has done some very bad 
things," or "This picture doesn't hold a candle to that" you know, 
some needling remarks. It's like the old Roman arena and the 
gladiators, I guess. They just like to see people taken apart. 
And most of the photographic criticism has been that way. 


Adams: The art criticism has been much better because the critics have 
been much more erudite and the same with music. There was a 
famous music critic at the Examiner many, many years ago. Or 
maybe it was the Chronicle. I think it was Rosenthal who played, 
and after the intermission the manager came out and said there had 
been a mistake in the program, and Mr. Rosenthal is not going to 
play this, he's going to play this and this and this. What do 
you think the next morning in the newspaper here's a glowing de 
scription of what Mr. Rosenthal didn't play. And the critic heard 
him. I saw him there. Then he left to write and meet the deadline. 
He maybe, after all, had heard Rosenthal do the "Fantasy" of Liszt, 
you know, or the "Don Juan Suite," or whatever was on the program, 
so he just wrote about them. 

Imagine the embarrassment of writing a critique about something 
that wasn't played. [Laughs] He was a very kindly man, and he was 
terribly embarrassed. The next week he wrote a letter of apology 
and explained why that he'd heard Rosenthal many times and knew 
how he would perform. But still, it was an inexcusable breach. 
But everybody thought it was a good joke. [Laughter] 

[End Tape 12, Side 1] 
[Begin Tape 12, Side 2] 

Teiser: To get back to your exhibits the one you would perhaps consider 
your first real exhibit. It was a one-man show in 1932 at the 
de Young. It was before the f/64 show. 

Adams: I think that would be fairly important. [Lloyd] Rollins, the 
director, was way ahead of his time; he did a great service to 
photography in the fact that he did show it. He showed Weston, he 
showed Brett [Weston], and he showed me, and he showed others, and 
he showed f/64, and he had the museum trustees down on him for 
wasting space on photographs. 

The whole Art Association in San Francisco has had a vendetta 
against photography as long as I can remember. They resent any 
space [used for it] because to them photography is not art. And 
my dearest friends, people like Colonel [C.E.S.] Wood and Sara 
Bard Field, would take me aside: "You could go anywhere in music. 
Why did you choose photography? The camera cannot express the 
human soul." 

I told Stieglitz that. Stieglitz said, "Oh, so?" [Laughs] 
I mean, making this romantic failure, I guess you'd call it, to see 
what you saw and feel it was just as spiritual an accomplishment as 
what a painter could do. But to them (they were a generation before 
me, you see), it was a mechanical process. You click and then you 


Adams: develop and then you print, that's it. But they don't realize all 
the magical visualization and controls that go into it. And this 
is terribly important. [Interruption] 

Teiser: Your show at the de Young, then, in '32, was of prints that you 
had recently made? 

Adams: Yes, most of the early better things. 

You see, I have a big problem now, that I'm probably the most 
disorganized photographer that ever lived, and probably the one 
who has the greatest number of things to fight with and combat, in 
items and early pictures. And for my show in San Francisco that's 
coming up, I have to go out to that darkroom and I have to start 
in from the beginning. 

Proper Disposition of Photographs 

Adams: I have hundreds of prints, and twenty-five, thirty thousand 

negatives, and of course some are useless and some are of purely 
historic value. I should take my early pictures of Yosemite 
negatives and give them to some historical [organization], like 
the Yosemite Natural History Association, because there's 
thousands of pictures that are just "Ridge No. 3," "Peak X," etc. 
Well, they'd take them and look at them over a period of forty or 
fifty years watch for the changes. That's very important 

And I've had a little struggle over what to do in relation to 
The Bancroft [Library] because where do the prints go? Well, in 
fact we're having a discussion with some good friends this summer 
about what's going to happen to this place. 

Teiser: The Bancroft has new space being planned 

Adams: Well, if any architect at all knows his salt, he would make purely 
archival conditions for collections. But the point is, The 
Bancroft is historical and I sent up all the Sierra Club papers 
I just sent up all kinds of things. Now, when you come to a 
photographic collection of prints, if it's purely art items it 
should go to a different place, I think an art repository. The 
Bancroft have a lot of early California things, but that's not 
necessarily art. 

Now, Edward Weston's pictures were given to the library at 
Santa Cruz by a friend, anonymously. He's given eight hundred of 
them, and this could be the nucleus of a photographic collection. 


Adams: But there were forty prints of Edward Weston over at Monterey 

Peninsula College, and nobody recognized what they had. They were 
in drawers without slipsheets on them, and the students would take 
them out and prop them up carelessly. Finally we got terribly sore 
over that and we had them all overmatted, and really when we told 
them they were worth five hundred dollars apiece on the market, 
they immediately made a flip. They are very nice people, but they 
were absolutely opaque to the quality of these prints. 

And this is the kind of thing that we really have to consider 
in disposition of creative work. 

Now, the pictures I have of Yosemite and of the California of 
my time, and so on they are history. If they're fine photographs, 
that's good too. But I have many photographs that have nothing to 
do with the subjects of history. How is The Bancroft going to 
handle it? It belongs in a different category. It belongs with a 
photography collection in a photography department. And once you 
give a thing, you have no control over it. 

The Huntington Library has a magnificent collection of Edward 
Weston photographs, and I think they're taking care of it. But 
they are isolated. 

Teiser: They have a very good group of yours, too. 

Adams: Yes, I've heard that. I don't know. But in Edward Weston 's [case], 
some donor gave five hundred prints I think valued at twelve dollars 
apiece. Paid Edward that, and Edward made six thousand dollars. 
These photographs are now worth a fortune forty thousand dollars. 
They're scarce as hen's teeth. An original good condition Weston 
print is worth at least eight hundred dollars today. 

Well, now, I'm getting two hundred dollars for the 16 by 20s.* 
If I were to die tomorrow, those things would immediately go to 
one thousand dollars or more, like Stieglitz. You couldn't buy a 
Stieglitz today. I have one that should come back pretty soon. 
It's loaned out on a museum tour. I insured it for six thousand 
dollars. I know two people who'd give me ten thousand dollars for 
that picture. And that is ridiculous, you see, because Stieglitz 
is dead. There's only two of these in existence. So it has 
nothing to do with the art value. So what do I do? Do I 
capitalize on these things? 

*Five hundred dollars after July 1974. [A. A.] 


Financial Practicalities 

Adams: There's a terrible thing that happened with the estate of David 
Smith, the sculptor; the IRS has come in to his studio, with all 
these things, and has put a death tax on the dealer's value, which 
goes into millions. And the estate can't possibly pay it. 

And what happened with Stieglitz he never took a cent out of 
the gallery. And Marin and [Arthur] Dove and O'Keeffe, they'd 
bring their paintings and leave them there a good, safe depository, 
Well, he died, and in comes the IRS, and they say, "Oh, there's an 
O'Keeffe twelve thousand dollars," which is what it would have 
sold for. And here were a hundred Marins at twelve thousand 
dollars apiece, and so on. And they went up into fantastic sums. 
The estate said, "We don't own these. It was just that they were 
on consignment." "Well, show us the papers." Well, there were no 
papers. He never gave anybody a receipt; they were all "family." 
So it took the combined effort of two top New York lawyers and 
McAlpin and somebody else to go down to Washington and state the 
situation, that these paintings belonged to the artists. 

So you see you're in a very difficult situation in any 
artistic value. On the other hand, I could take one of my two- 
hundred-dollar prints and give it to the Institute of Foreign 
Studies for an auction, and the only thing is that they can't sell 
it for less than the going price, because that wouldn't be fair to 
the clients. But I want nothing for it at all. I give it to them. 
All I can take off of my income tax is ten dollars. 

Teiser: Why? 

Adams: Because the artist can only take off his material costs. That's 
the new reading. Now you can buy that print for ten dollars from 
me and give it to the Institute. Then its value is two hundred 
dollars, and you can take that off your income tax. 

Teiser: You mentioned the other day that prints were not, earlier, 
collected or bought. When did it start? 

Adams: No. Well, Stieglitz sold a few. God knows how few. Strand 
Teiser: How did Strand make a living? 

Adams: Strand inherited quite a fortune. Stieglitz had a very nice 

living. Julia Margaret Cameron had a nice living. Edward Weston 
was broke all his life, except when he was a portrait photographer 
in Glendale; then he was doing very well. Then he threw that all 
over it wasn't creative. And he nearly starved to death on a 
couple of occasions. 


Teiser: Could Edward Western have sold more prints? 

Adams: Edward Weston needed a manager. If Edward Weston had had a really 
sympathetic, good manager, Edward could have done very well, 
because he was a superb photographer. But he just philosophically 
he just pulled away from all that. You couldn't talk to Edward 
about anything. 1 used to plead with him on insurance. I used to 
plead with him on making out a will, for the sake of his family. 
[He'd say,] "Oh, I'm not interested." 

Robinson Jeffers came here in 1924 or before and got all that 
land at Carmel Point. And finally friends used to say, "Well, 
look, Robin " Of course, he had an income too, you see. Taxes 
were getting a little high. They'd say, "You have to remember, 
this land is tremendously valuable and you ought to do something 
about it or your children are going to have tax trouble." Jeffers 
would say, "Oh, they'll have to take care of themselves. I can't 
be bothered." Well, when he died the property was worth over a 
million dollars and the death tax duties [were so high that] 
within a year they didn't have any money at all. They had to 
immediately start borrowing, selling, subdividing. That whole 
point should have been a Robinson Jeffers memorial area, you see. 
And he could have very easily made a corporation a trust and put 
everything in it. There'd be some taxes, but so little! 

So as I say, many of the greatest creative photographers have 
had private incomes and were really amateurs. Eliot Porter is very 
well off. I know of several others. 

Original Prints 

Teiser: In Stieglitz's time, then, very few prints were sold? 

Adams: Oh, very few photographs. He just put impossible [prices on them] 
thousand dollars, seven hundred fifty; Strand, five hundred. Mrs. 
Liebman would buy a Strand. But the prints were sold. Most of it 
was done in portrait commissions, or sold [for reproduction in] 
books. But the actual purchase of a print as an art was very 
little known. 

Teiser: When did people start buying them? 

Adams: I'd say it really started probably before the 1929 crash. Then 
after the Great Depression, and shows were given in galleries, 
people started acquiring prints. But never at more than a personal 
level. And then, you see, as the galleries developed, people got 
aware of the fact that a print had value. 


Adams: Now, my Portfolio V is strictly limited to one hundred copies for 
sale, and everything's destroyed negatives and all other prints. 
And the collector will say, "You don't number this edition of 
other prints." I say, "No." To me a photograph can be reproduced 
a thousand times, but it has no value to a collector, because he's 
just buying something anybody else can have. Etchers have done 
that. Weston did it. He used to have, say, fifty prints, so he'd 
make a few prints. They might be number 5/50. Well, he very 
seldom sold more than five or six, except for just a handful [of 
photographs]. And I'd say the same thing. I can think of ten or 
twelve photographs which have sold very considerable quantities, 
way beyond any normal edition. And the rest seven, five, ten, 
none. So in theory I should set a limit; that I will make no more 
than fifty prints, a hundred prints. And then every one bears the 
number of the print and the edition. 

Teiser: Then after you make those, you should discard the negative? 

Adams: I should discard the negative. Now, fundamentally that is wrong, 
but also, I couldn't charge what I charge if I didn't. In other 
words well, suppose you had a photograph you knew was going to 
sell a thousand copies, and you put those out, say, for fifteen 
dollars, the edition. You get fifteen thousand dollars, which is 
more than you'd get from all but a few photographs. We've sold 
nearly twenty-five thousand dollars of special edition prints in 

Teiser: But how long does it take you to make a thousand prints? 

Adams: Well, that's another point. I'm one of the few photographers that 
has a plant where we can do it well. You should see the darkroom 
of most of the photographers! Absolute little holes in the wall. 
Wynn Bullock's darkroom looks like a back room in a basement 
somewhere. Imogen Cunningham's darkroom is a shambles. Eliot 
Porter's is very fine. He does color work, and he has a lot of 
money to put in it. Weston's darkroom was one-quarter the size of 
this alcove, and the only thing he had of any value was a dry 
mounting press. He put the negative in a printing frame and turned 
on a light overhead to make a print no enlarging!! I mean, almost 
a mannerism of simplicity. But I have a room in which I make my 
big prints. I have some beautiful electronic equipment. I've got 
a new digital clock. I've got a timer, a metronome, which is 
regulated in intervals by voltage change, so I'm always getting the 
right amount of light. When I'm counting ten seconds, or ten units 
of light, if the voltage drops, the interval will increase. Those 
things are very simple. The average color processing darkroom 
costs ten times what I've got. 


Would you make a thousand prints? Could you stand it? 


Adams: I've made two hundred 16 by 20s in one day, from one or two 

Teiser: My word! 

Adams: Oh yes. I can make special edition prints. I can do 250 a day 
without any trouble at all. Well, with assistance. I have to 
have somebody assisting with fixing and washing. If I had to go 
through the whole thing alone, it would be too much. But if I 
sign the prints, I have to make them. 

I'm going to get Ted Organ to help out with special editions. 
He's a fine photographer. I'll turn him loose. Now, if all his 
prints are what I approve of, I'll initial them. And most of the 
painters great painters always had assistants. Diego Rivera's 
murals I mean, many of these oh, probably 70 percent was done 
by somebody else, but of course under his direction. It's a 
ticklish thing. A negative can give you more reproductions than 
any other medium. A copper plate will wear out, a lithograph stone 
will wear out, but a film will last forever because there's nothing 
going through it but light . 

Teiser: Who are the people who buy prints? 

Adams: Well, you have a few individuals who just like a photograph, and 
want it. Then you have a few people that like a big photograph 
in the house. I make these big ones, you know, 30 by 40. They 
want them "over a mantel." Then there are business firms that 
want to use big photographs for general decor. There is a law 
firm [in Los Angeles] that has eighty-plus prints, my biggest 
single installation. 

Teiser: Where is this? 

Adams: McElviny & Myers, the big law firm. Then the Fremont Indemnity 
has three floors of prints. IBM has got thirty-two pictures in 
the roomssin the Homestead at San Jose. They're all fine prints. 
You give them a discount when they say they want to buy fifty 
prints. They don't pay a gallery rate, obviously. I make ten of 
each, twelve of each ten of each in this case. I have another 
job coming up for them. 

Then there are simply collectors . Some do it for financial 
reasons. I know one man that's bought something like ten thousand 
dollars worth of photographs and sold them for forty thousand 
dollars just like you do paintings or stocks and bonds! 

Teiser: That's a speculator. But are there any great private collections 
of photographs in the country? 


Adams: Oh yes, there are some very good ones. Lane has got the biggest 
one, William Lane in Luninberg, Massachusetts. He has a 
tremendous collection Sheeler's and Weston's and mine. Witkin and 
Harry Lunn are the best men in the gallery world, and they have 
people that are buying. 1 think most important collections are in 
museums. People buy and give to museums. 

Teiser: I was thinking for instance the way people put together book 
collections . 

Adams: [David] McAlpin had a very fine collection. But he's giving it 

away to the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan, and to Princeton, 
He's probably our great patron he's the one that really started 
[buying]. When I had that show at Stieglitz's, he came in, and he 
wanted the "White Gravestone." He asked, "What is it?" Stieglitz 
said, "Seven hundred fifty dollars." McAlpin sort of blinks, 
because even that was high. But Stieglitz said, "If you get that, 
you can have this one, this one, and this one." That was the begin 
ning. So McAlpin has bought untold thousands of dollars of prints 
the most generous [buyer]. Of course, he's one of the Rockefellers 
on William Rockefeller's side, and he must have a tremendous amount 
of money, but he used it in the most marvelous ways supporting 
music, the Philharmonic, the opera, the Princeton choral society, 
the Alexander Hamilton papers; different art museums. Oh gosh, 
there's no end to his munificence. And he lives in a nice house in 
Princeton, very unostentatious. (All these people that really do 
these fine things never live [lavishly.]) The Lands have a very fine 
photographic collection. They're thinking of what they're going to 
do with it. 

Teiser: I think of the many people who collect fine editions of books, 
whether they ever read them or not . And very often they go to 
libraries or institutions. 

Adams: Well, the fine book a collection of fine printing, and the buying 
of books well, it's a little closer to photography than is the 
collection of paintings. Because, first the original cost is less. 
Albert Bender used to buy any number of fine press books. But then 
you're talking about ten, twenty dollars, a relatively low field. 
Well, somebody comes along with a very expensive book, like the 
Kelmscott Chaucer. A dealer in New York called Bender up one day 
this is back in the thirties and said, "I have a Kelmscott Chaucer 
for $3200." Bender says, "Hold it. I'll let you know today." 
What does he do? He picks up the phone. "Rosalie Stern, top of 
the morning to you. We can get a Kelmscott Chaucer for Mills for 
$3200. I'll put in five hundred dollars." [Mrs. Stern says,] "Put 
me down for five hundred dollars, Albert." He writes this down, 
calls up Cora Koshland, "Top of the morning to you, Cora. How's 
the sunshine off Washington Street?" "Well," she says, "it's very 



Adams : 

gray, Albert. But I know you're after something. What is it?" 
He says, "Well, the Kelmscott Chaucer for Mills College we can get 
it for $3200. I've put in five hundred dollars, Rosalie's put in 
five hundred dollars." [She says,] "Put me down for $750." Well, 
you know, in about two hours time he had all the money raised for 
this thing, and he calls up New York, and he says, "Send it out. 
I'll send my check today." That's the way Albert Bender operated, 
you see. And that Kelmscott Chaucer, one of the rarest books in 
the world, is in the Mills College Library! 

Same thing for Stanford. But that's like buying a Rembrandt, 
you see. Virginia and I are a little bit disappointed in each 
other because I had most of the keepsakes of the Roxburghe Club 
and we gave them to somebody, some institution. And now I 
understand they're worth $2500. [Laughs] We thought they were 
just a lot of old folders and things. They were Grabhorn and Nash, 
and Jonck & Seeger and Lawton Kennedy fine examples of printing. 
And we had the greatest printers out here; there were a few in the 
East, but nothing as extraordinary. 

So what are values? As a creative artist, I shouldn't be 
worrying about that. I should sell my prints for the most I can 
get for them and do the best prints I can, and then let the 
historians and the dealers reap the harvest. 

But as the owner of negatives, you must, mustn't you? 

Well, the negatives have no meaning unless I print them. Now, the 
great architectural picture I have Piranesi. Now, that is an 
original Piranesi. It was given to us by Robert Farquhar, the 
architect. The Italian state made a special edition of all of his 
remaining engravings and ruined them; they didn't give them to the 
right technician. They didn't look like the originals; they weren't 
the real thing. This is the maddening thing, because with some 
superb technician and artist, they could have done it. But 
somebody sold them on the idea, and didn't do a good job. 

Well, now, I think I'm missing out on a couple of things you 
asked me. 

One-Man Shows 

Harroun: We were talking about the '32 exhibit. 

Teiser: That's right. At the de Young. What I read about it recently was 

that, in it, you said that you had changed your method and your view 
of photography, and these were new prints that you had made, not the 
kind that you had made previous to that. 


Adams: The criticism could be that the new prints of many of the old 

negatives were poor because the negatives weren't made for that 
kind of technique, for that kind of printing. And it was interest 
ing, in my big show in the de Young in 1963, there were two small 
rooms of early originals made before 1930, and most of those had 
gone to Lane; he owns those, and they're some day going to museums. 

Teiser: But in the 1932 show 

Adams: As I say, most of those that were made from negatives that I had 
before 1930 were probably on Dassonville papers, and I can't 
remember that show as to whether the prints were all up-to-date. 

I can't remember much about other shows. I had one at the 
University of California [in 1939]. When I made the prints for it, 
I thought I'd do a new thing; I made them very rich and dark. 
Everybody said, "Your prints are awfully dark." I said, "No, I 
want to get this richness." A year later, I saw them, and I 
wondered how in the world I had ever made such prints! They were 
terribly dark, they were heavy, they were over-toned. But I was 
going through a "thing," as they call it, in which these "qualities" 
symbolized something that I felt. And they're very depressing. I 
got a lot of bad reviews, which they deserved. But it's a fact that 
the photographer shouldn't judge his own work and shouldn't plan his 
shows, because he's too close to them. 

Teiser: You had your own gallery in San Francisco for about a year, was it? 
Adams: That was a headache. 

Teiser: Was it? You gave some shows, though, that were pretty good, 
weren't they? 

Adams: I had a Zorach show painting, sculpture. I had a Bufano show 
sculpture. I had f/64. I had my own. I had Weston. Virginia 
probably has the list. It was all so unreal and impractical. But 
I never forget what the manager at the Wittell building told me 
when I had to close up. He said, "You can put me down for this 
you're the only artist I ever knew that ever paid all your bills 
right on time." [Laughs] I didn't say I used to go and beg advances 
from Albert Bender. [Laughter] 

Now, there's many other shows. The first show in New York was 
at Alma Reed's [Delphic Studios] in 1933. And that was the kind of 
a person who made you put up cash money to pay for the announcement . 
I sold about six prints. Stieglitz was very mad at me. But my 
prime story is, in 1933 the first trip east we went to Yale, and 
I had a letter to Dean Meeks, who was the head of the art department, 
I showed him the photographs. He was very excited, called in a 


Adams: curator. Looked at them all over again, and when he came to the 

one I have of leaves at Mills College, he said, "Mr. Adams, I find 
this absolutely extraordinary. What is it?" I said, "Well, it's 
a leaf pattern." "But," he says, "What is it?" I said, "What do 
you mean, what is it?" "Is it a tapestry? Is it an engraving?" 
I said, "It's a picture from nature." And [at first] he didn't 

Well, then I had a show there, I think in '33, '34, '35,* at 
Yale, and that was pretty good. That created a lot of excitement. 
That was probably the first time that photographs of this type ever 
came to that part of the country. But Dean Meeks was so unknowledge- 
able in photography that he couldn't believe that this was a 
photograph from nature. 

Teiser: Had many pictures of that sort been taken by then? 

Adams: [Albert] Renger-Patzsch was beginning it in Europe, and Paul Strand 
had done some. Edward Weston had done some. But nothing that I 
know of of that particular approach. 

The Creative Intention 

Adams: Is it Wordsworth or Gray who made the poetic statement, "How many 

a rustic Milton may have passed this way"?** All of the ability, but 
none of the realization. And that realization depends so much on 
luck, fortuitous oh my, it's really a profound thing. 

But a person like Newhall, who's a great researcher, will find 
that maybe people in 1860 did things like that. The first 
daguerreotype was a still life. I think there's several of Fox 
Talbot that are of little natural things. But again, it was just 
the miracle of the process there. "I'm going to photograph this." 
You imagine yourself getting suddenly a new process, "My gosh, I 
can do this." And you look around, and you look at that table, and 
you go "click," you know. Then of course, in history, somebody 
begins to build that up and read in "significance." It's very 

So probably one of the main criteria to judge a great 
photograph is, was there a creative intention? And lots of these 
historical photographs have absolutely no creative intention at 
all other than being a very good record of the scene. Perfectly 
honest and capable. But the creative intention is really back of 
the element of art. A great deal" of my early work, to my best 

*In 1936. 

**"Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest" (Thomas Gray's "Elegy") 


Adams: knowledge and belief, had really no creative intention except to 

record a lot of beautiful things I saw. But then once in a while 
this is talking now of the early twenties every once in a while 
something would appear before me in which I added the other 
dimension. I don't know if I'm making sense. It's a very 
difficult thing to discuss, because the dividing line is so thin 
between the unconscious and the conscious thing. The difference 
is between creativity and observation. 

Teiser: When you had these early exhibits, did you make selections 
arbitrarily for them? Were they your choices? 

Adams: Well, I'd talk to Virginia about it, and lay them out in the room, 
and the museum director would come over and [we'd] give him a drink 
and he'd look at them. And he'd say, "Sure, that's fine, but 
maybe you could use this one better here," and that was it. It 
was very naive, the whole thing. 

Teiser : Were they big exhibits? 

Adams: Never very big, no; and very small prints five by seven, or eight 
by ten. 

Teiser: I mean, were there a very large number of prints? 
Adams: No, thirty or forty. 

Exhibit Prints and Archival Factors 

Teiser: Were you making prints smaller in size then, than you do ? 
Adams: I did mostly contact printing. 
Teiser: Eight by tens? 

Adams: Yes, and less. And if I enlarged them, I very seldom enlarged more 
than that. I had an eight by ten darkroom; then I got an eleven 
by fourteen darkroom; then I got the sixteen by twenty darkroom. 
Then I got a forty by seventy darkroom.' [Laughter] 

But, as Land points out, the basic fact of the big print it's 
a conceptual thing. I mean, the print is done for a situation of 
viewing. You just don't go through the files and say, "Gee, this is 
a nice negative. I'll make a big print of it." I've been guilty of 
that too. But you have to be sure that you're making a picture 
which will stand a big enlargement. I've seen many pictures which 


Adams: would be twenty by thirty feet in certain architectural situations. 
But by the time you get to that, the photographic quality is so bad 
that everybody has to be roped off thirty feet away. [Laughter] 
You see, the angle subtended from the point of view is what 
controls your sense of definition and of grain! 

I was so mad at The Family of Man, the exhibit and the 
Steichen book, that they wanted my negative of Mount Williamson. 
And I said, "I cannot send you a negative. I just can't let this 
out to anybody. I'll make it here." They said, "Can't afford 
that. We'll make a copy from the print in the museum." I thought 
there were good people in New York. Well, by gosh, they made a 
terrible copy, and then when they cut the prints, they trimmed off 
so the sections didn't match. There was an inch lost between each 
one. And here was this thing on display! 

And you know what the publicity picture was? A little girl 
was trying to span one of the big rocks in the foreground,* and 
that's publicity! That's the kind of thing that Steichen would do. 
The print quality, the whole feeling of this image was debased. The 
Family of Man is, I think I told you once before, one of the worst 
catastrophes that ever happened to creative photography. Terribly 
important from the social point of view, but hideous in its effect 
on the whole idea of what is creative image quality and so on. 

Teiser: Also sentimental. 

Adams: Stickily sentimental. Advertising level sentimentality. So I 

would say now, again, I think that was a catastrophe. Dr. Land had 
the same idea. He said it was a very interesting show if you wanted 
to get sentimental about the human kind, but it didn't do any good 
for photography. He's an extremely astute man. 

But am I unpopular in many circles for that opinion! Because 
50 percent of the contemporary photographers sort of fall back on 
that as the bible of justification for what they do. 

Teiser: It seemed to me to reduce man to about the level of a guinea pig. 

Adams: Well, that's a long story. I don't think I should get into it, 
except to express my antagonism of the whole idea, and I'm sorry 
I was even included. 

*In the museum exhibit, "The Family of Man." This photograph is 
reproduced on p. 202 of the volume, The Family of Man. New York: 
Museum of Modern Art, 1955. 


Teiser: I wondered why 

Adams: Well, one wants to cooperate. 

Teiser: You didn't know what it was going to be. 

Adams: No; they wanted the picture. But I don't like to send my negatives 
out and have something happen to them. 

I know a man in San Francisco, Irwin Welcher at General 
Graphic, I can trust him. He'd do the best he could. But it won't 
be my print. It' can't be; he doesn't have the same equipment and 
the same point of view. But it will be a decent, craf tsmanlike job, 
and it will be accurate. 

Teiser: He once told me that he handled your prints the way that was as 
close as he could get to yours. 

Adams: He did some for the visitors' center at Yosemite, and of course, he 
has to use condenser enlargers, and that doesn't give the quality 
of my negative. I have to use diffused light. But maybe there 
isn't a strong enough diffused light to do it. But I can't criticize 
him, because he's a very fine craftsman and I trust him. If the 
Museum of Modern Art had said, "Send the negative to Welcher," I 
would have sent it right up. I wouldn't have worried at all. I 
might not get a print that I'd really like, from the creative point 
of view for myself, but at least it would be technically clean. It 
wouldn't be overlapped; it wouldn't be all full of wrinkles. 

You know, these commercial photography processors use this 
single weight mural paper, and they sell it by the square inch. 
And you cannot process single weight paper properly. I mean, if 
you put it through all the necessary washing solutions, it won't 
stand it. It'll crack and wrinkle. 

Most of these people make blowups for an occasion. If you had 
a technical exhibit to last for six months, well, they'd make a 
great big blowup; after that it goes out in the junk pile. But all 
my prints are supposed to last! That one of Half Dome was made in 
'63, and it's going to last until 2063. I don't see why not. All 
prints go through selenium toner. 

Teiser: The mounting board that you use is chemically inert, isn't it? 

Adams: Well, it should be, but of course most everything is done with dry 
mounting tissue, so I'm not so much worried about it except the 
edges, if it's a bad board. We use Strathmore and a few other 
things, now the Schoeller board. They have their problems. It's 
very difficult. I'm using the Schoeller board now and get it 
direct from Europe, and it's quite fine; it is a five-ply rag paper. 


Adams: Now, Strathmore illustration board is one-ply on each side of a 
pulp core. Well, the pulp core is the one that may have the 
destructive effluvia or emission. Now, if you cut a mat out of 
that, then the edges of the overmat, you see, are not very far from 
the edge of the print. So under humid conditions, the sulphur can 
migrate. But the Strathmore drawing board is fine. 

On the other hand, if a print has really been fixed in two 
hypos and toned in selenium, it will resist that. So I say my 
work is done on a practical archival basis. I can't guarantee it's 
going to last for three thousand years, and I don't think you could 
do that with anything. I could do it better than I do itfix in 
two regular hypos and take each print and hang it up to dry and 
mount it with a big wide margin, under an overmat of super rag, and 
all that. What's the use. That would exceed all of the archival 
procedures in the whole history of art. [Laughter] I don't see the 
sense of it. 

[End Tape 12, Side 2] 

Printing Earlier Photographers' Negatives 

[Interview XI 4 June 1972] 
[Begin Tape 13, Side 1] 

Teiser: Mrs. Adams was just mentioning your printing the Brady negatives 
the difficulties in handling them. 

Adams: What happened was I was working with the Newhalls in the Museum of 
Modern Art. We thought up an exhibit called "Brady and the 
American Frontier." Of course, at that time, Beaumont hadn't done 
all the research, but he had a pretty good idea that Brady never 
made a picture himself but directed his associates. Well, as for 
the entire exhibition, we looked all around, and I traveled east and 
west; I stopped off at places like the Ford collection [in the 
Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan] of Jackson's photographs. I 
found quite a few things. Francis Farquhar had some fine things. 
We got a very good collection together. 

Then it seemed, if my chronology is right, there 'd been a big 
gift to the National Archives of about five thousand Brady negatives. 
And Beaumont was asked to come and evaluate them. So, what a 
wonderful chance we went together, and we looked through them. 
That's a lot of negatives, but we noted some that were outstanding 
in quality. And it's interesting that all these negatives were in 
ordinary manila envelopes and had written on the face thereof the 
name of the photographer [Alexander] Gardner, [F.H.] Bell, or whoever 
did the actual picture for Brady. 


Adams: So we picked out some. There's a strange rule at the Archives. In 
the first place, we had to pull a lot of strings even to get into 
the place! But you couldn't touch anything. They're glass 
negatives, and they had to be carefully watched, because it's 
government property. Now, making a print means you have to put a 
negative in a printing frame and put the paper on it and turn it 
around, and turn the light on it. But I couldn't touch the 
negative, so I would designate one and the young fellow whom they 
had assigned to me would take the negative out of the envelope and 
dust it off and put it in the holder. Then I would put the paper 
on it, close it up and make a print, you see. And we worked that 
way, without disobeying the law. [Laughter] The Archives are not 
like the Library of Congress. It's a very special collection a 
terrible lot of junk and I suppose some priceless things. 

Teiser: Imagine anyone thinking that archives could handle negatives better 
than you.' When you've worked with material in the Library of 
Congress, how have you ? 

Adams: I've never made prints in there, but I think they might let me do 
them. I don't think they'd be as strict as the Archives. If they 
didn't know me or I had no reputation or no real introduction, they 
would be very tight, because after all, they have to watch and care 
for everything. But I don't think they would be as tough as the 

Well, these old negatives, of course, were made by the wet 
collodion process, and they were made for the printing-out process, 
and they're extremely contrasty. Now, the difference between the 
printing-out process and our modern developing-out process is that 
the paper is placed back of the negative and is exposed to sunlight 
or a very powerful arc. The effect of the strong light reduces the 
silver directly. The silver halide is reduced directly to metallic 
visual silver. There's a complicated step in the process I can't 
fully understand it myself. But in theory what happens is that as 
the print density builds up, it automatically reduces the amount of 
light that can reach the remaining exposed silver. So it becomes 
an "auto-masking" process. You finally get the silver to the point 
where no more light can get through and there would be no more 
silver affected. 

In the meantime the high values are building up, and the middle 
tones are getting grayer, and the whites are beginning to show 
values and textures. The trick is to print so that you keep a clean 
white and still retain a rich black. That means, of course, that 
the negative has to have a large density range. 

Now, we didn't have that kind of P.O. P. paper, so I had to use 
Azo #0, that's the softest grade of Azo. And I used a developer, 
Amidol, diluted one to fifteen normal solution with water, which 


Adams: meant the developer had a very low energy. At the same time it gave 
a pretty good print "color," and I could get a fairly good tone. 
The idea was to tone the prints in selenium. And after the week or 
so of work, we put these prints through an alkalizing bath and toned 
them. Then the young fellow said, "I'm going to be here tonight; 
I'll wash them for you, and you can pick them up in the morning." 
Well, he washed them, but the water temperature was running about 
10 higher than the toning solution had been, and that took out the 
selenium tone. They were all just black and white again! So 
nothing to do about it there. I took them back with me to Yosemite 
and toned them in my Yosemite darkroom. The secret is, always wash 
your prints in cooler water than you toned them in. Chemically, the 
toning process is somewhat an adsorption as well as an absorption. 
Absorption is when the material actually gathers things unto itself; 
enters the structure. Adsorption is when it is attracted to the 
surface. A lot of this selenium sulphide is attracted just to the 
surface of the silver. As the gelatin expands under warmer water, 
it releases it. 

In Yosemite I mounted them and I was careful to make a few for 
myself and the Museum of Modern Art too. They turned out very well. 

Then we had another exhibit called "Sixty Photographs." And 
they were supposed to be highly and carefully selected pictures. 
Sixty images from the beginning to the most contemporary! 

Teiser: Of all photography? 

Adams: Of all photography. Sixty images that we thought adequate. 

Teiser: Where was that? 

Adams: The Museum of Modern Art. 

Well, we wanted to include Genthe, but his prints were so 
lousy, on a kind of rough greenish paper, or brown-green, and his 
textures were awful, as with most "pictorial" prints. We couldn't 
find anything original and good. And he was an old, old man. And 
he had a couple of old, old ladies helping him to put his stuff in 
order in his little apartment in New York. He was a very fine 
gentleman, you know. He was a Ph.D. Dr. Genthe. He was really 
quite a handsome man, and very erudite. 

So I explained to him the problem. I said, "We want to 
represent you, but we can't find any print that does you justice." 
And he said, "I guess there aren't any." I said, "Well, would it 
be possible could I, under your direction, make a couple of 
prints?" He said, "Why, just take the negatives. I trust you." 


Adams: So I took these negatives of the San Francisco fire and of a 

street in Chinatown in 1904, and made the prints. And of course he 
was flabbergasted, because he'd never seen a print of that kind. 
It was on smooth paper. It didn't have that green tonality. And 
it was sharp. I printed them on smooth paper, and we toned them 
in selenium, and they came out absolutely magnificent. He could 
have done it there's no trick in it but he just wasn't in that 
mode or mood. 

Teiser: How did some of his negatives get to the California Palace of the 
Legion of Honor? 

Adams: Well, he either left them, or his estate gave them some. Well, 

they're not really Genthe is of historic value the San Francisco 
fire picture, looking east on Clay Street, was great. But as a 
rule, he's a very romantic portraitist. He was kind of the Cecil 
Beaton of his time a great name-dropper. [Laughter] And a great 
ladies' man; a perfectly charming man; a superior person. But he 
wasn't, in the whole perspective, very important. But he just did 
a few extraordinary things and they are extraordinary. 

So that's for history of printing. And then I went to the 
museum of anthropology [the Laboratory of Anthropology] in Santa Fe, 
and they had some Ben Wittick negatives. I printed some of those in 
the same way as I did the Bradys. And that was part of the American 
frontier exhibit. 

Teiser: Did you print them down there? 

Adams: At the Laboratory of Anthropology. Then we had the big show. Of 
course, we had a lot of beautiful old original prints, and there 
was one of a cart at Laguna Pueblo about twenty by twenty-four 
inches. Well, William Henry Jackson was living then, and painting 
away in water color, remembering scenes of the Wild West. He lived 
in an old New York hotel, and I would go down and see him. 

When we had the opening of the show, he was the guest of honor. 
And he was ninety-eight. I said, "I will come and get you in a cab." 
So out of his hotel he comes, all dressed up with spats and a cane 
runs down the steps, gets in the cab, and we go to the museum. The 
only impediment , the only trouble from his age was that he had a 
very cracked voice. And he looked at the photograph of Laguna Pueblo 
saying [imitates the voice], "Well, that's a mighty fine photograph. 
Who did that?" I said, "Well, Mr. Jackson, that's one of yours 
1870." (This was seventy-something years earlier.) And Mr. Jackson 
said, "Well, by cracky, it is.'" [Laughter] The old boy had several 
martinis, and then I said, "Any time you want to go home, I'll be 
glad to take you." He said, "I'm not going home. I'm going to a 
cocktail party on East 57th Street, and you're coming with me." So 


Adams: I had to take him over to the east side to this nice little 

apartment, where there were many almost equally old people, all 
having their martinis. They were writers and painters old buddies, 
you know. Very kind. So I was beginning to get worried. I said, 
"Mr. Jackson. You know, any time now, I'll get you down to the 

He said, "I can't go home. I have to go to a dinner party. 
Now, I don't know these people, so I can't ask you to that, but I'll 
thank you if you'll leave me there." So we went over to the west 
side again, and up to the seventies to an old town house, and I got 
out and helped him to the door. I saw him a week later and he was 
fine. But he couldn't recognize his own photograph at first, and 
then I realized it was seventy years, more than my whole lifetime 
span, between the time he took that picture and looked at it! It 
was a great personal experience. 


We had the titles wrong on a lot of things. They had been 
written on the back of the prints, and that's all we had to go on. 
He looked at them. "No, that's not Zuni. That's over at Acoma or 
somewhere." Or, "That's not" a certain place on the Union Pacific, 
or "The title's wrong." I said, "We took the titles from what was 
on the photographs." "Well," he said, "you'd better correct them." 
So we did, as best we could, and we had to make the note on the 
back of the photograph that according to first-hand observation by 
Mr. Jackson, "this is it." This then stood as the correct title. 
And it's very difficult to do this archivally, because maybe he was 
making a mistake. You see, who is the final authority? 

Teiser: You have, in your own acquaintance, spanned a great period of 

American photography. You've known people whose work went way back. 

Adams: Oh yes. Jackson and Genthe, Dassonville, Stieglitz, Strand who 
else? There's another old character in there somewhere. 

Eastern Visit. 1933 

Teiser: When we talked yesterday, we said we were going to start this 
afternoon with your trip to New York in 1933. 

Adams: Well, that was the first trip we had east. 
V. Adams: [From next room] That was the spring of 1933. 

Adams: Spring of 1933. Well, there was a Depression on, you know, and 

Virginia was fairly well along with Dr. Adams [Michael]. [Laughs] 
(He was born in Yosemite on the first of August, 1933.) 


Adams: The banks closed, you see, while we were on the way [east], so we 
stayed with the Applegates in Santa Fe for, what was it? six 

V. Adams: No, not really. 

Adams: [To Mrs. Adams] Well, you'd better tell it. You know more about it 
than I do . 

V. Adams: Well, we stayed about a week or so, but we kept getting telegrams 

and letters from Albert Bender, and they said, "Go ahead, go ahead." 
We didn't know whether we could or not. But the head of the bank 
there was kind enough to cash our travelers checks , so we went on 

Adams: Well, there was one lady who got hung up for weeks and weeks and 
weeks in Santa Fe. A limousine chauff cured iier from Wilmington, 
Delaware. She was living in La Fonda [Santa Fe] and had no "cash" 
money at all. It was a very serious occasion. 

Well, anyway, we went on to Detroit and Chicago. Had letters 
to various people. I made many booboos on the way. I remember one 
dinner party we were invited to in Chicago, and they were quite 
surprised to hear we'd never been to Europe. And one lady said, 
"Well, Mr. Adams, what do you think you would really like most if 
you went to Europe? Have you any idea?" And I said, "I think it 
would be the Gothic architecture." "Oh," she said, "it's very 
interesting, the whole Gothic civilization. But what part of the 
architecture really interests you the most?" I said, "The flying 
buttocks." [Laughter] I was persona non grata after that in that 

And then we crawled on to New York, arriving on a terrible 
dull, gray, misty April morning, with ash cans out on the street. 
Somebody had recommended to us a little hotel, the Pickwick Arms, 
which was a hangout for tired radio and theatrical people. A very 
decent place but, boy, it was grim! Unbelievable. This was 
Depression time, and here, everything was just as sour as it could 
possibly be. Rooms were dark and dank. Service lousy. Food worse! 

So I went out sailed up Madison Avenue to see Stieglitz, who 
had just moved into 509 Madison Avenue. Then we went on to Yale 
I think I told you about going there and seeing Dean Meeks . 

Teiser: Yes. 

Adams: Oh, we went to Boston too, of course, 

Teiser: Did you meet other people in New York? 


Adams: Oh, Alma Reed, and some of Stieglitz's friends, but not many. 
Teiser: Did you learn anything in New York that you wanted to know? 

Adams: Not much. Never have, except in a few isolated places. Well, it's 
hard to say that because, after all, there are the Cloisters. New 
York is pretty much the center, but I couldn't possibly live there. 
In fact, I even resent going there now. 

Teiser: You had already met Marin and Georgia O'Keeffe. 

Adams: Yes, I'd met them. 

Teiser: Did you see them there at that time? 

Adams: No, O'Keeffe was away. Strand was away. But I met Marsden 
Hartley, Paul Rosenberg, a critic, and a young writer named 
Einstein. (I haven't heard of him much.) And of course John Marin. 
It was all right, but I just don't look back at it too much. It 
should have had an awful lot of glamor about it which it didn't 
have for me, let's face it. 

Then we saw our friend in conservation, Horace Albright. 
Teiser: At that time what was he doing? 

Adams: He was the president of the U.S. Potash Company. And of course he 
was always very closely associated with the Rockefellers. He 
practically raised the boys one of their counselors. Very close 
to John D. , Jr. A delightful person. 

Teiser Had you known him before? 

Adams: We knew him in National Parks as superintendent at Yosemite and 
later as director of the National Park Service. He was very 
prominent . 

And then we went to Washington and met Eugene Meyer. I can't 
remember the other people. Virginia might remember some, but I 

Have you anything to say, Virginia? You can't say it from 

V. Adams: [From next room] I'm not listening to you. I don't know. 

Adams: Well, we're trying to say what happened on that trip. They want to 
get the facts straight, and you know me and facts. Are you against 
being recorded? 


V. Adams: No, but I just didn't want to intrude. 

Teiser: Oh no, come in. 

V. Adams: It was Mrs. Stern's brother. 

Adams: Eugene Meyer. 

V. Adams: Not Eugene. 

Adams: Oh yes, the other Meyer, Walter Meyer. 

Teiser: Was he interested in your photographs? 

V. Adams: No, he was being nice, I think, to some young people that his 
sister knew. 

Teiser: Did they all represent a kind of luxury that we didn't have in the 
West at that time? 

Adams: Well, it's hard to say, because New York is the East they have 

great wealth, but they seldom show it. Everybody still keeps it; 
everybody lives more "elegantly" in the West. I guess Mrs. Meyer's 
estate in Mount Kisco was probably something like Mrs. Stern's 
Atherton home. 

V. Adams: Well, we went to the little farm that Walter Meyer had, somewhere 
around Mount Kisco. 

Adams: A nice little place, but nothing pretentious. 

And then these apartments Mrs. [Charles] Lehmann[?] had a duplex 
on Fifth Avenue. Very big place 

V. Adams: You and I went to Doris Ulmann's apartment on Park Avenue. 

Adams: Oh yes, then we saw Doris Ulmann, the photographer. That's 
important. I've forgotten that. 

Teiser: Who was she? 

Adams: She was the one that did a lot of photography in Appalachia, and of 
the Negroes in the South. A very wealthy woman with an old Mercedes 
car and a German chauffeur. Took pictures of everybody who came to 
see her. Had this great eight by ten camera and a flimsy tripod. 
And while her exposure of me was going on, I could see the camera 
swaying. [Laughter] So I said, "You know, Doris, really, your 
tripod's terrible." [She said,] "You know, I just can't get sharp 
pictures. I thought it was the lens." I said, "It's the tripod." 


Adams : 

V . Adams : 

Adams : 

Adams : 

V. Adams: 

Adams : 



"Well, will you help me pick one out?" So the next day I was 
picked up in the car and we went down to Willoughby's and all the 
other big photography stores; finally got her a tripod that would 
hold her eight by ten monstrosity up. And then she'd go to the 
lens case in the store and say, "I want that one and that one and 
that one." God knows how many lenses that woman had. She just 
would buy lenses like Virginia would buy "Cool and Creamy" at the 
Safeway. [Laughter] But she had a very fine feeling and did many 
fine things. She had a book published; I don't know whether we 
have it or not. [Added:] We do several books. 

I know somebody else we saw when we were in New York that time, and 
that was those people whose pictures we have downstairs 

Oh, the Zorachs. Yes, well, we'd known them in Yosemite. 

You had climbed with Zorach? 


What was it like for one person to paint or sketch and one to 
photograph on the same theme? 

Oh, we had a fine time. He didn't know anything about climbing. 
He nearly got killed coming down Grizzly Peak Gulch. Didn't follow 
my reasonable advice, which was not to get out on that slick 
gravelly granite. But he wanted to see if he'd get a view, and away 
he went , throwing all his new sketches up in the air , which showered 
down out of sight. He caught onto a little tree and just hung there; 
we had no ropes or anything. I had quite a time crawling out to 
him and getting him back, but he was chastened. I was scared to 
death, because he could have gone about three or four hundred feet, 
right down. 

He lived in New York, did he? 
In Brooklyn. 

There must have been some connection with his wife's family in 
Fresno, because she visited Fresno. But that was before that was 
early '24 or something. 

Yes, in '23 or '24 we were climbing around the valley. And his 
wife was a very fine artist painting and textiles were her main 
fields. They were both excellent. 

So you were glad to come home again? 

Oh yes, very glad to come home again. [To Virginia:] 
off at Detroit on the way home or on the way east? 

Did we stop 


V. Adams: No, on the way east. 

Adams : 
V. Adams: 
Adams : 

V. Adams: 

We saw Diego Rivera painting something for the Rockefellers, 
in New York City, which was later destroyed because they didn't 
approve of it. 

Of course we'd seen him before, in San Francisco. 

The Rockefeller Center murals was that what he was working on? 

Yes, they were in Rockefeller Center. 

Was Radio City already started? 

Oh yes. He was working in the big building. 

And it was a very interesting thing, because the Rockefellers were 
very fair. But he gave them the "cartoon," which was approved by 
them; it was an historic perspective on America. Then he brought 
in Lenin and Mooney and had it all political! They said it was 
not according to the original agreement. If it had been in the 
original cartoon, they might not have bothered about it, because 
it was part of the history of the labor movement, and so on. But 
they didn't like being put upon. 

Albright told me that. They were just furious. "Why should 
he put something over on us?" He didn't have to do that. He could 
have talked it over, and they could have listened. And what 
happened was they simply paid him off and painted the walls over 
and got [Jose M.] Sert to do the job. It wasn't a very good mural 
job. But Rivera could be an awful potboiler. The one in Detroit now 
at the big Museum of Art is fantastic. 

You saw it again recently, didn't you? 

Yes, while I was at an architectural convention. It was done before 
1933. And every little wall space is filled with tight images and 
designs. It will take a couple of hundred years for that to really 
get back into appreciation because it's so corny compared to modern 
art. Well, maybe they thought that about the frescoes at Pompeii! 

But there's one big central design, men working, the great 
machinery (automobile workers mostly), that was very impressive. 
But all those little spaces! The whole room is like a great mosaic; 
little narrow spaces between doors all filled up. Pipes and people 
and hammers and expressions and clenched fists [laughter] 

Teiser: How long was that trip all together? How many months were you gone? 


Adams: Oh, it wasn't months. 

V. Adams: Whenever the Bank Holiday began was when we went east, and we came 
back when it got hot in Washington. We cut short going to the 
University of Virginia that we were to visit, because it was so 
hot we decided we were ready to come home. 

Adams: Six weeks, I guess. 

Teiser: Well, did you then keep in touch with Stieglitz after that? 

Adams: Oh yes constantly. 

Teiser: Did you see him often? 

Adams: Saw him a lot every time I was in New York; got many letters from 

Teiser: Were you back and forth frequently in the thirties? 

Adams: Well, I was there in '34, '36. Then with McAlpin, we went on a 
trip to the Southwest, went on a trip to the Sierras, went on a 
trip down the inland waterway, Norfolk to Savannah, and to New 
England. So I've seen a lot of the East of that character. Some 
of it's really beautiful. 

V. Adams: When did you meet the Charles Sheelers? 

Adams: I met the Sheelers at the Newhalls'. And then Barbara and Willard 

("Herk") Morgan had their studio in New York, a big studio I remember 
that it was a loft apartment. But again, I can't remember the exact 

And Gjon Mili. I saw Mili on a recent trip. 

I don't know you meet all these people and you just can't 
remember. It just comes to mind by association, so if I think of 
something, I'll just have to interject it. 

Teiser: In any case, in those years, you met a lot of people of significance 
and interest. 

Adams: Yes. Robert Flaherty, the movie man he was rather important. And 
Henwar Rodakiewicz, whom I'd known in New Mexico. 


The Stieglitz Exhibit and the Adams Gallery 


V . Adams : 


Adams : 




Then in '36 you had the show at Stieglitz gallery, 
one in a series of exhibits? 

Oh no, that was a very special one. 

Was that just 

He hadn't been doing anything with photographers or taking anybody 
new on until he took you. 

Then he showed Eliot Porter (perhaps before my show) . But my 
exhibit there was a big event for me. Other things might have 
happened that were of practical importance. But this is sort of a 
papal audience! 

Was it a large show? Did you show many photographs? 

No, thirty-five, thirty-six. The place was too small for a lot of 
stuff, which was really an advantage, as work is boiled down to the 

The 1963 show in San Francisco had over five hundred items, 
you see, which is ridiculously large. Big shows should not have 
more than two hundred prints. Strand had over five hundred, and 
you can't possibly take it all in at one visit. You have to go 
back and back again. You can put up shows at different times. But 
there isn't that much variety in a person's work. 

Minor White had a big show, but it was too much also. So I'm 
trying to cut down. There's something about just a small exhibit 
well, fifty or sixty prints is an ideal show. If they're all 
really your top stuff. Then people can look at them and they don't 
get fatigued. A lot of people were very mad at the San Francisco 
show. They had to come back several times to see it! They couldn't 
possibly go through it thoughtfully in a day or two days. They 
resented this. 

The Stieglitz show at his gallery did you show some portraits? 
By then you had taken quite a few portraits. 

Oh yes, I had a few portraits. Stieglitz didn't like my portraits 
very much. He had a different philosophy. I don't like the 
"candid" as a rule. But I'd get a person's face in repose. And 
Stieglitz would say you have to sit for a one- or two-minute 
exposure! Then things happen, a combination of tension and relax 

Did it advance you in prestige? You said it was perhaps more 
psychological than practical. But wouldn't it also have meant much 
for you so far as the whole art world was concerned... 


Adams: I wouldn't know. I think that it's probable. I came back all 
fired up to have a nice little gallery of my own. I remember 
Stieglitz asking, "What's that group I've been hearing about out 
there?" I said, "Oh, you mean Group f/64?" He said, "Yes. Well, 
I'm f/128." [Laughter] 

I tried running a gallery [the Ansel Adams Gallery, 166 Geary 
Street]. I tried to get some ideas in doing it, because I realized 
what Stieglitz was doing was very wonderful for young people, but 
it was at a totally unrealistic level. He had a private income. 
So did Strand and Dorothy Norman, who came from a very well-to-do 
family. In so much of the art of the East that I saw, people were 
unrealistic in the sense that they had money. When you don't have 
money, it's awfully hard to keep up with a noncommercial approach. 

Teiser: The gallery was at one time called the Adams-Danysh Galleries. Who 
was Danysh? 

Adams: Joseph Danysh. 

Teiser: At the gallery did you do some photographic work too? 

Adams: Not in the gallery, never had a studio as such. Oh, I did a couple 
of things, but nothing important. I used to do that in my home. 
But I never was really a commercial photographer, a professional. 
I would do things, but I never had a sign out. Most of the work 
was outside project work. 

Teiser: I think I read somewhere that you also gave some talks on photography 
and did you teach? 

Adams: Oh yes, I did an awful lot of talking and yakking and print 
criticism. Yes 

Teiser: Do you still know any of the people who came to you then for 

Adams: Some I faintly remember; some remember me. You just meet people, 
and people talk, and you talk and show prints, exchange ideas, and 
hope it's helpful. It takes a great deal out of you; much more so 
than people realize. 

I notice that now especially, say at the end of the day. 
People come with a set of prints. It's comfortable sitting here 
talking, but when I should look at a bunch of prints critically if 
you don't look at it critically, it's not fair. It's superficial. 
And you have to stand back of what you say, and make it clear. 

Teiser: I was looking at a list of people whose work you showed at that San 
Francisco gallery, and Peter Stackpole was one. 


Adams: Oh yes, Peter was quite remarkable. His father was Ralph Stackpole, 
the sculptor. I think he [Ralph] was one of our very best artists 
a wonderful person. He spent his last years in France. 

His son, Peter, got interested in photography and worked hard 
to develop a 35-millimeter technique. And he would come around with 
his prints and look at various prints I had and compare definition; 
he was always trying to perfect definition. 


Then Tim Pflueger, who was a great friend of Stackpole's, an 
architect and a big man around town, got Peter the job of document 
ing the building of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. It's a monumental 
series of pictures. He was right up there with the men, on the 
slings and on the cables and on the towers, and had a few close calls 
I was told. But that series of pictures that he made is really a 
very impressive set. And I don't know whether they really have been 
brought together as they should be. 

35 Millimeter and 2 1/4 Cameras 

Teiser: Was that the first time you had carefully studied 35-millimeter work? 

Adams: When I was in New York I think in '34 I went to see the Zeiss 

people a Dr. Bauer, Karl Bauer, a very fine gentleman, who was the 
Zeiss American representative. He liked what he saw, and he wanted 
to know if I wanted to try the Contax. Now, the Contax was the only 
35-millimeter camera that really worked, other than the Leica, and 
there was a very interesting psychology back of it. They made 
twenty-five prototypes, by hand, of a miniature camera, and gave 
them to twenty-five leading photographers in Germany. 

They said, "We want you to find out everything that's wrong. 
Just comment what's good, what's bad, what you'd like to have, etc., 
and send us your report. When the camera comes out, you will get one 
with your name engraved on it." The result is that it's the only 
camera made (I have a new one) that when it came out had no "bugs." 
It was practically perfect. It still is that first Contax and 
always has been the most perfect camera. I've had several. They've 
sent me different ones to try, different lenses to try. Now I have 
the Contarex, which is the last camera of that line made. But now, 
of course, the company is all mixed up, changed now called Zeiss 
Ikon. The original Zeiss was appropriated by the Russians. 

They made the best lenses, I guess, along with the Nikon people 
in Japan. The Zeiss Ikon establishment are phased out now. Zeiss 
Ikon was a big combination of German camera makers. They all got 



together and put out the Zeiss Ikon line, 
conglomerate name. 

Zeiss Ikon was a 





But the Japanese have gone ahead. A lot of the cameras you 
think of the Pentax and the Minolta and the Konica those are all 
Japanese. The Nikon of course is Japanese. The Canon is a 
Japanese Leica. So there's only three important small format 
European cameras today. That's the Hasselblad of Sweden, and I 
guess the Rolleiflex I have to say that, but that's going to be 
made in Hong Kong or Singapore. And the Leitz, and the Zeiss 
Contarex, the only one left. And it's an incredible machine, a 
beautiful machine. I hope they keep it going. 

When you first used the 35-millimeter camera, did you take many 
pictures with it? 

Oh yes, I did a lot of 35 work in the thirties and forties. 

Were they the kind of pictures you would have taken with other 

No, no. Thirty-five millimeter is a language all its own, you know. 
You don't set up a tripod and try eight by ten quality pictures with 
it. It's more an immediate "extension" of the eye, you see. And I 
will be very happy to get back to it again some day. 

Oh, that would be interesting. 

Liliane [De Cock] has put some 35s in the monograph.* But it was 
always a conflict between the mechanical perfection of the eight by 
ten image and the limits of the 35 millimeter, because in the old 
days, with the thick emulsion film, it was very hard to get away 
from grain, and it was very hard to get definition from corner to 
corner because of the negative thickness. The film was actually 
thick, and light impinging on it at an angle, in any density level 
of importance, enters the surface at one point, and emerges further 
away from the axis of the lens. So when you look at that directly 
in the normal position, you see diffused areas near the edges. 
With ordinary short-focus enlarging lenses it was very difficult to 
get an all-over crisp negative. 

And then they worked with thinner and thinner emulsions now 
the problem is quite minor. But a lot of people become very 
careless with the 35, sloppy and get harsh values in black and white. 
Of course, the Europeans use it almost exclusively. Maybe that's an 

*Ansel Adams . Hastings-on-Hudson, New York: Morgan & Morgan, 1972. 


Adams: exaggeration. But most journalists and most people who travel do, 
and they have their work done for them. Not too many European 
people print. I don't think Cartier-Bresson prints his own. So 
print quality as we know it as being part of the expression, it 
doesn't exist. It would be like a composer never hearing his 
works done, you see, or having someone else finish it without his 
control. But there s^ something about the inherent quality of the 
35 millimeter. 

Of course, the Hasselblad is betwixt and between. I can get 
incredibly sharp things now with 2 1/4 by 2 1/4 film. 

[End Tape 13, Side 1] 

[Begin Tape 13, Side 2] 

Teiser: We were talking this morning to Mr. Richard Garrod. 
Adams: Oh, nice man, yes. 

Teiser: And he was saying that Brett Weston had recently been given a 
single-lens Rolleiflex and it was opening a new world to him. 

Adams: That's quite true. It wasn't recently; I think it was two years 
ago. And of course he was always a large-format man, and then he 
tried the Rolleiflex, and he's used very sharp film, like Adox, and 
a point-source light, and he gets extremely sharp, brilliant images. 
(It's interesting that the Rolleiflex uses exactly the same lenses 
as the Hasselblad made by Zeiss.) But what it's done is to open up 
for him another world. But it is a very abstract world. It's 
about the same point of view that he would have with his eight by 
ten, except that he can do more on a physical basis. The 2 1/4 by 
2 1/4 and the four by five those formats really relate more to 
the larger format now. The 35 millimeter still is something of 
particular function and quality. 

Teiser: When the Rolleiflex first became popular, the twin-lens Rolleiflex, 
wasn't that thought to be a journalist's camera, and no serious 

Adams: Oh yes. But it was a beautiful camera. The trouble with the twin- 
lens it has parallax which you can't overcome. The correction of 
parallax that you hear about is merely that as you focus near 
objects, the mirror tilts, so that you center the object in the 
field. But the taking lens still doesn't see it as the other lens, 
so you have to elevate the camera the same distance as the difference 
of the axis of the taking and the viewing lens in order to get the 
correct reference in near /far images. 


Teiser: But wasn't the size even considered a great limitation when it 
first came out? 

Adams: Oh yes. Well, one of the problems was one of getting negatives 
of good quality. But many, many people used it, and people like 
Dorothea Lange and most people in the Farm Security group would 
prefer that to 35 on the basis of quality. But you remember that 
all of those cameras have no adjustments, and when you tilt the 
camera you get convergence; you have no way of correcting it in 
the field. So it had certain limitations. 

Now the Rolleiflex and a couple of other new ones have tilt 
fronts, which give you a little better definition, near and far. 
But the Zeiss lenses are designed for maximum coverage of the 
2 1/4 by 2 1/4 on axis. So they don't have much "covering" power; 
they're not designed to have it. Now, you take a Goerz Dagor or 
you take the wonderful Super Angulon lens the 121 millimeter lens 
covers an eight by ten on axis, which was unheard of until it 
appeared. [It] is a computerized lens. So that means you can 
take a four by five area and move all around in an eight by ten 
field. And that gives you an idea of the amount of adjustments 
you have how much you can move the image, you see, and still keep 
a sharp field. 

But these other lenses, especially the Tessar type, if you 
move them half an inch or so you may get into trouble. Brett has 
done extremely fine work with the Rolleiflex. I don't like the 
camera as much as the Hasselblad. I think it's very bulky. It has 
the focal plane shutter, which Hasselblad got away from. (Because 
it seems to be impossible to make a focal plane shutter that really 
works.) The Hasselblad system has got a shutter for each lens. 
Well, the difficulty there is that the shutters are not all the 
same, so you have to have them all calibrated. But at least, once 
they're calibrated, they're consistent. 

But the thing that a lot of people forget is that the old 
Graf lex, the reflex type, which is like the old Mirroflex of 
Zeiss, and several English cameras is the first single-lens reflex 
in which you saw exactly what the lens was seeing, and the mirror 
moved up out of the way when the shutter was released. But of 
course it was a reversed image on the mirror. And the cameras you 
have now use the pentaprism; the "roof prism," as they call it, not 
only puts the image right side up but also makes it "right side" 
too. It's a very complicated cross-over. It's called a "roof" 
because the image meets the roof and folds around, laterally. And 
it's quite an amazing optical device. One can't see that dividing 

Teiser: The Hasselblad has that, doesn't it? 


Adams: Several have that now. It's a rather massive thing. The 

Hasselblad has it, the Rolleiflex has it, as well as the 35 

Teiser: How did you happen to start using the Hasselblad? 

Adams: They sent me the first model, the 1600, saying, "We'd like you to 

try this. Tell us how you like it." Mr. [Victor] Hasselblad is a very 
fine gentleman. So I got it and I worked with it, and I wrote a 
report; it was about sixteen pages, double spaced, of what I found 
wrong with it. From that time we were buddy-buddies. The people 
that designed these cameras were engineers, had never taken any 
pictures. For instance, the first camera, you'd put it in a 
knapsack and tilt it and the mirror would fall out of its toggles. 
The engineer had only thought of the camera as being upright. You 
don't have to turn it sideways, because it's a square image. He 
never thought you might carry it sideways. 

Then the inside was a jet black cube. But there's no such 
thing as a nonreflective surface, so we got some of the worst flare 
that any camera's ever produced. And the lens shade was round 
because that was the way you made lens shades then. It's just a 
convention; it's perfectly ridiculous. Now Hasselblad has finally 
come out with a lens-shade box system that the movie people have 
been using ever since the days of Griffith, I think. It's just a 
square opening, combined with bellows, which "frames" the image; 
whatever the particular lens is seeing. It's quite a beautiful 

So then they made the 1000, and that was an improvement. That 
meant one-thousandth of a second, focal plane. 

Teiser: What was the 1600? 

Adams: One sixteen-hundredth of a second. They never worked up at that 
level. They never worked up to that point at all. They were 
pretty accurate in the lower levels. 

[Richard McGraw enters] Hi! Dick McGraw, this is The Bancroft 
Library oral biography people. I'm telling them all. I was just 
talking about you recently. 

McGraw: Don't tell them too much about yourself. 

Adams: They ought to interview you so you could tell them. [Laughter] 

The between-the-lens shutters are, of course, more dependable. 

In theory they shouldn't be, but it's awfully hard to get mechanical 

systems that will move a curtain across a field at equal speed, from 

start to finish. Of course, they've had all kinds of mathematical 


Adams: compensations, where the curtain slit is a little bigger at first, 
and then gets smaller as the curtain speed increases. 

Teiser: Is there one called the Copal? 

Adams: Well, that's just a between-the-lens; that's just a make, a design. 

Teiser: Is there not a different kind of 

Adams: Oh, it has a little different system, and it's a shutter-blade 

system. And of course we have the electronic shutters now, they're 
somewhat different. They work on a capacitor system. They're very 
accurate and quite expensive. 

Teiser: Did you use the Hasselblad then quite a lot for awhile? 

Adams: Oh yes, ever since I got it, way back in the fifties. I've used it 
a lot. 

Teiser: I suppose you don't take pictures with it that need the adjustments 

Adams: No, I use my Area Swiss view camera. Of course, you remember, there 
are ways and means of correcting distortions by enlarging systems, 
where the lens and the easel can be tilted to overcome the distor 
tion. It's a pretty complicated business, because there's the 
negative holder and lens board adjustments. I'd rather get it 
straight to begin with! 

Now, getting back to 35 for a minute, we find that with color, 
many publications, like National Geographic, demand 35-millimeter 
color because they can get better results than they can from larger 
transparencies under their economic way of doing it. I don't know 
whether that would hold if they really went to town with the larger 
formats, but they can make a blowup from 35 and get an illusion of 
depth. Also, anybody who goes out to do a story for National 
Geographic does literally thousands and thousands of pictures, that 
you wouldn't do if you used a four by five camera! 

Photographs for Magazines 

Teiser: Have you ever done any work for National Geographic? 

Adams : No . 

Teiser: Have they picked up any of your pictures ever? 


Adams: I think they used one once. We aren't very sympathetic. Their 
whole approach is extremely factual. Of course, it's getting 
better now. But it's a kind of sterile thing. They don't invite 

The worst example we had of that is when an editor from 
Holiday magazine came to San Francisco just before the magazine 
started, and he had a big lunch or dinner for all the photographers. 
Invited about thirty or forty photographers. And everybody got a 
little happy and gay, nice dinner, and then he talked with them. 
He said, "We're putting out this new magazine, and we're interested 
in ideas, and we'd like to give you as many assignments as possible. 
But we want it very clearly understood that we want to make the 
pictures to look like the kind of pictures that a reasonably 
knowledgeable, wealthy traveler would take. "We don't want no 
estetics." [Laughter] In other words, the individual photographers 
are proud; some got up and walked put. And he tried to explain 
what his concept of journalism was, that this magazine was to be 
sold to those people. First, they had to have money, good equip 
ment. Now, what kind of pictures do they get? If you showed them 
better pictures than they can do, you're patronizing them. So we 
can't have that, you see. [Laughter] 

Teiser: Didn't Holiday end by having some slightly more imaginative pictures, 

Adams: Yes. But you have to realize that when you're thinking of movies, 
like the Disney movies, or National Geographic any magazine that 
probably for every picture shown there's been a hundred taken, at 
least. The law of averages says that if you take one hundred, you 
might get something, and if you take fifty, you might not. 

And of course, the best of all Herbert Bayer, the designer 
we were all down at Aspen once, and the advertising man from Kodak 
was attending the conference. He said, "Mr. Bayer, how many 
submissions do you make when you have an advertising design job?" 
Mr. Bayer says, "One, the best." Well, the Kodak man just couldn't 
possibly understand. Because they're so used to seeing dozens of 
things come in of the same subject. A fine artist says, "Well, 
you ask me to do it, so I do one. That's my best. You don't see 
the others." 

And that is a problem in photography. I did a number of 
assignments for Fortune, and you're working under a time pressure, 
and you don't have time to contemplate, think and balance and 
figure out. You have to do it. You have two weeks for the Union 
Carbide article, for instance, and you work all day long and into 
the night and you get everything you can and you know you've 
failed on some. And you do them again and again. Then you end 
up with some things that they're happy about. But if they'd only 


Adams: give you two months, you could do so much better, but that isn't 

the way. Everybody waits until the last minute, and then "Got to 
have it right away!" Has to be in yesterday! 

Teiser: When you work for a magazine like Fortune, however, isn't it a lot 
more satisfactory because the reproduction is 

Adams: I haven't done anything for a long, long time. I wouldn't know. 
It used to be pretty good. It was a showcase for the advertising 
profession, primarily. Very interesting thing the whole theory 
of Fortune. It still keeps going. It is notoriously inaccurate. 
And I know, for instance, that the story I did with the PG&E, they 
made something like twenty serious factual mistakes. And the PG&E 
people were trying to prove to them. Of course, this was out of my 
field; I was doing the pictures. They were trying to say, "Well, 
this isn't right!" But the editors would go right ahead and do it 
their way. 

Now, the same thing happened with the big corporate farm story 
they did in the Central Valley. Dorothea Lange and I worked on 
that. And they made all kinds of impossible statements. -We saw the 
text, and Paul Taylor would say, "That's not right. This is not 
the description of the 160-acre law, and you've got the dates wrong." 
Fortune would say, "Oh, we know what we're doing." So it really 
is a come-around that you really can't trust anything. 

Polaroid had an article in Fortune. They didn't say much 
about it, but I know it missed a lot of things, exaggerated others, 
and was wrong in others. 

A journalist gets in there and resents any adjustment. A 
photographer, he just tries! Your best pictures aren't used, but 
you've got nothing to do with that. However, the titles are 
usually right; they don't mix those up. 

Teiser: When you do work for a magazine, then do they own the negative? 

Adams: It all depends. Usually, in an editorial story, they buy the 
rights. They may want the negatives; on the other hand, if 
you've done some beautiful stuff, you might keep the negatives. 
Then if you ever use it, you only use it with their permission. 

And the big battle with the A.S.M.P. [American Society of 
Magazine Photographers] is when advertising use is involved. You 
see, there's a difference between editorials and advertising. When 
you do an advertising picture for a firm now, what are you doing it 
for? Are you doing it for the one-time right, say a page in Life, 
or are you doing it for the many times they wish to use that 
picture in many magazines? And there's been a big squawk about 
that, because the firm claims they can't afford it. Then we 


Adams : 

Teiser : 
Adams : 

Adams : 
Adams : 

counter back and say, "Well, you're paying $45,000, $50,000 a 
page." One page in Life now one issue. "Well, that's why we 
can't afford it." [Laughter] 

So the cost of advertising is simply tremendous, and there's 
right on both sides. It seems a photographer should get a certain 
percentage of the total cost. But say a Life page costs $40,000 
the makeup alone of that page is costing the agency $5000; the 
photography might cost as high as $5000, plus the models used. 
There's $50,000. Well, of course the photographer would be paid 
fully. But the agency takes 15 percent on the purchase. So if 
you bought $100,000 worth of advertising from Life, the agent will 
make $15,000. And that's where they make that money. Plus billing 
for the photography and the art work and so on. So when you hear 
of an agency having a $100 million billing, that means perhaps 
that they took in $15 million as profit, because above and beyond 
that they have to pay for the art work, but the customer also pays 
for the photograph. But there's no two things exactly the same. 
It's quite complicated. 

Have you done photography for ads on commission or have you ? 

Oh yes I've done several things. I did some for the National Gas 
Association, just did a series for the Wolverine company a 

Were they done for that catalogue? 
No, they just used existing work. 
They took ones you'd already done. 

And in my position now, I get a pretty high fee for the use of a 
picture. But if, of course, Wolverine called up and said, "We want 
to get a picture of a particular scene, with a mountain boot. We 
want this situation," and so on, that's kind of a big undertaking 
because you have to figure everything out from scratch, you have 
to get your models right, you have to get a location. I don't know 
what the going rate is now; the highest I know of was for a 35 
millimeter shot of a still life that was on two pages of the Ladies' 
Home Journal (I think) by I Richard] Avedon. He got $3600 just for 
the use of this picture. That was editorial, you see. Now, if 
that had been an advertisement, he would have probably gotten much 



Adams: They have rates. When you do a job, it's so much a day, or so 
much a page, whichever is larger. If I go out and it takes me 
ten days to do a job at $400, that's $4000. If it's ten pages, 
at $400 a page, that's $4000. But they usually pay expenses in 
addition. Kodak always is very generous model expense all your 
expenses, mileage, food, anything. All the film you could possibly 
use. And then on top of that, they guarantee a fee for the 
accepted picture $1000, $1500, whatever it was. 

Well, for one Colorama I did for them, the costs went way 
over $6000 (this was twenty years ago) because of the trouble we 
had finding the location and having expensive models along. I'd 
call up Rochester frantically; I'd say, "Look, this is getting out 
of hand." "Oh, just keep at it. That's all right." Well, it was 
$6800 expenses! 

Teiser: When you did work for Kodak, did they specify a certain type of 
photograph they wanted or ? 

Adams: No. This is for the Colorama. They did two things: the big 
Colorama in New York Central had to fit a certain dimension a 
certain size film. And I made mine seven by seventeen, the film 
was cut for the seven by seventeen banquet camera. The image came 
out finally 4 3/4 by 16 1/2. It has to be seen and planned on 
that proportion, using models in the costumes and the desired 
colors and using Kodak cameras. And the Kodak camera has to show 
well and the models have to be the strawberries-and-cream, ail- 
American "wasp" type, you know. Then of course it has to be very 
sharp, because it is blown up to sixty feet long. Well, that's 
one phase, and I would submit many images. We'd go out for maybe 
a week, and I'd maybe take ten, fifteen, or more "situations." 
And I'd go through $250 worth of flash lamps (blue) to fill in 
shadows. I don't know what the film cost. They get that at a 
rate, but that's hundreds of dollars, you see. 

Then the other type is where they tell you, "Now, if you're 
going on a trip, we'll send you a bunch of film. We guarantee 
five hundred dollars," or so for a picture. And sometimes I'd 
come back and would have less than that in value, and they 
wouldn't care. And sometimes I'd come back and have very much 

So they've always been very fair. Of course, that's quite a 
time ago. The rates have gone up. And they have their own crews. 
And some of these things are getting terribly sterile, because they 
don't have proper artists. 


Teiser: Things like the U.S. Potash series was that for annual reports ? 

Adams: I did quite a "take out" for IBM. They asked, "Come and do some 
pictures down at the Poughkeepsie plant." I just went there and 
lived at their Homestead at their expense and made many photographs. 

Teiser: Had you done many so-called industrial photographs before? 

Adams: Yes, quite a few. 

Teiser: Can you remember what your earliest industrial photography was? 

Adams: Oh, I did a winery. 

Teiser: When was that? 

Adams: Oh gosh, that was back in the thirties. 

Teiser: What winery was that? 

Adams: The S&J Winery, up in Lodi. And then I did Kennicott Copper; and 
Union Carbide; Del Monte Properties, many years ago. 

Teiser: What about Salz 

Adams: The Salz Leather Company, yes. In Santa Cruz. 

Teiser: What work did you do for Salz Leather? 

Adams: Just pictures in the tannery. 

Teiser: IBM? 

Adams: And there's IBM just the Poughkeepsie plant. They then made 
typewriters and some computers there. Then they moved the 
typewriters to Kingston and the whole building went to computers. 
Then they moved the typewriters from Kingston to Kentucky. Now 
the typewriters are I think made in Italy, and I guess the Pough 
keepsie plant is still in advanced computer work. And they 
developed the new research lab at Kingston a perfectly gorgeous 

Oh, I did all kinds of little things; I can't begin to 

Teiser: The book for the University of Rochester? 

Adams: Yes, I did a book for the University of Rochester, Creative Change. 
The University of California Fiat Lux. Dominican College, and 
Paul Masson. The Sugar Institute as well. 


Teiser: Is that beet or cane sugar? 

Adams: That was beet well, a little of everything. The Sugar Institute 
was a general institution, and we had the cane sugar from Hawaii 
and the beet sugar locally. And of course you're never supposed 
to speak of one with the other, although it ends up as identical 

Teiser: They present different photographic problems, don't they? 
Adams: Only in the field 

And of course my biggest continuing project has been my 
consultantship with Polaroid. 

Working with Dorothea Lange, Continued 

Teiser: You mentioned that you had worked with Dorothea Lange on what was 

Adams: Well, we worked on the Fortune story on the Central Valley, the 
corporate farms. 

Teiser: I think you said you'd worked with her on a series on the shipyards. 

Adams: Yes, that was the OWI the Office of War Information. It was quite 
a "take out." Then we did a big story on the Mormons in southern 
Utah three villages, Gunlock, Toquerville, and St. George. 

Teiser: What was that for? 

Adams: That was done for Life, but that was kind of an unfortunate mix-up.... 

Teiser: Did it appear? 

Adams: It wasn't very clear to anybody; it was a misrepresentation. I 
didn't like it. 

Teiser: Was it published? 

Adams: It was published, but very small. We had an exhibit. 

You see, they told me that we were going to do this exhibit, 
that Life was going to publish it. Of course, the Mormons are very 
suspicious people. Dorothea and Paul [Taylor], they took it on, 
and they went to Utah and saw the big shots and got permission, 
and it was very difficult. Then once we got in, we got going pretty 


Adams: good, and the first set of pictures were very fine. Then it got 
intellectual Dorothea's capacity to get intellectual and it's a 
very strange dichotomy there, because she changed the whole 
character of this exhibit from an emotional thing into a sort of 
a sociological viewpoint. And then a few pictures came out in 
Life, which were a very poor representation. 

Teiser: Does it still exist as a collection somewhere? 
Adams: I don't know where it is. 
Teiser: Life has the whole thing? 

Adams: No, Life just has a set of prints. I don't know what happened to 
the exhibit. 

Teiser: I hope it's been preserved. 

Adams: Well, they weren't very satisfactory 

Teiser: As it was originally conceived, was it? 

Adams: Well, as originally conceived, I think it had a great quality, 
but when you get into politics, social points of view, things 
can get hairy, you know. 

Teiser: The OWI? 

Adams: Well, it was a story on the shipyard production at Richmond, and 
the life of the people. Of course, we got lots of things that 
were not too pleasant, like people living in trailer houses on 
mud flats. We had to walk over fifty feet of planks to get to 
them, through mud. Incredible bars. And then, one of the typical 
things we were getting on the Richmond ferry and seeing these 
people come in from some factory on the Peninsula and just flop 
down and go to sleep by the boilers, just getting some rest so 
they could work the next eight hours at Richmond. There were 
untold numbers of people that were doing two full shifts a day 
moonlighting under different names and everything. You see, it 
was kind of controlled, but they got by with it. And some of them 
had sons in the war, and most of them were really trying to do 
everything possible. It was a terrific experience. 

Teiser: Was that satisfactory to you? 

Adams: Yes, that was all right. We mixed our negatives. I can 

recognize some I did and some I don't know. I mean, we would 
just work together. For instance, we had one big job of the 
people coming down out of this building quitting time. Just a 
whole flood of people coming. 


Adams: That's my photograph I remember 

Teiser: That's one often attributed to Dorothea Lange, isn't it? [the one 
in the 1966 Museum of Modern Art catalogue, Dorothea Lange, 
captioned "Shipyard Construction Workers, Richmond, California, 

Adams: But when I say it's mine, I mean we were there with the camera, so 
we worked it together. 

Teiser: Were you using similar cameras? 

Adams: Oh, sometimes. Yes, I used a Super Ikonta B and four by five 
and five by seven cameras . Then we had to do a picture of the 
big church in North Beach. That was a toughy. I always got the 
tough technical things to do I 

Teiser: Was that in the same OWI series? 

Adams: Yes, in some way related to the freedoms part of the government 
project. But we did the freedom of religion, and then the farm 
scenes it was very complex, and I don't know what really 
happened to that. 

Teiser: Are all of these negatives with Dorothea Lange 's negatives in the 
Oakland Museum? 

Adams: I don't know where they are. 


I had one my trailer camp children was part of the OWI 
series. I wouldn't give that negative up for anything; I want 
to hang on to that. Then I have another one of this stout Negro 
lady sitting in her trailer home doorway above the mud. 

Teiser: With the goat? 

Adams: With the goat, and then the panel in the mud, you know. 

And then I had another one of the work transfer desk, which 
is quite an emotional picture. I'd like to think of using that 
again in an exhibit. You may remember that one, of the men talking. 
It was done with a remote control camera. I was controlling the 
camera as far away as I could. And these people would come in and 
plead to change their jobs. You see, jobs were fixed. And they'd 
come in with their hard hats on and say, "My family's not doing 
so well in Alabama, and there's a job down there in a war plant, 
and I'd like to transfer." So they'd have to have it all analyzed; 
some could get it, some couldn't. 


Adams: But there's something strange about that I wonder why people 

don't like that picture much. The expression of the man is very 
good. Maybe it's the way it's cut. His head is against the light 
globe. I can see where that would be disturbing. They weren't 
even conscious of the camera. The camera a Zeiss Juel was low 
on a tripod, back of filing cases, and I was operating it from a 
distance, trying to get these people. They were talking. 
Because in those days, people were very camera conscious. 

Wartime Work 

Adams: That takes us into the wartime. Part of the war, when I was 

working I wanted to get into something, and I was past the age 
except for extreme emergency of what you'd call military work. 
But here I was a photographer and I wanted to do something. Well, 
whenever you ask a military man and say, "Am I going to be a 
photographer?" they laugh at you. They'll make you a cook, like 
Brett Weston. Through the intervention of Charis's uncle a 
general he got closer to photography than many. He was cleaning 
film on Long Island movie filml 

I asked General [Simon B.] Buckner once. I said, "I never 
can understand. Here's trained photographers, and gee, as soon as 
they get in the army they're digging holes somewhere or putting up 
fences or cleaning guns." He said, "Well, you don't understand the 
military. There's just a certain number of photographers. We have 
to start from scratch. And when we get a man in unless he's a 
very top expert and goes in top echelon, he's a person in the ranks. 
He gets a kind of evaluation, and maybe he'll be a good cook. So 
we train him to be a cook. I don't care whether he's a photographer 
or anything. Because in that way, there's always a resource of 
expendable manpower. A trained cook could be eliminated, and 
there 'd be another one. But if you said, "We've got just so many 
photographers,' and put them in, if they were eliminated we 
wouldn't have this recourse. So we can't count on their previous 

I wanted to do something. So Steichen called me up one day, 
and he said, "Adams, I want you to run my labs." You know, he was 
a captain in the navy. And I said, "Well, that's the only decent 
offer I've had, where I feel I might be able to accomplish 
something." "Yes," he says, "this is very important, and you'll 
hear from me within the week." And the rank would be major and, 
oh gosh lot of baloney guaranteed living quarters, and "You 
would direct my central lab." That's the last I ever heard of it. 


Adams: After a week, I called up; they said, "Captain Steichen is in the 
South Pacific." I said, "Does anybody know about my offer?" He 
said, "No, So-and-so is running his labs." As far as I can make 
out, it was just a lot of hot air. I never had any use for him 
anyway. This is one of the typical examples. 

I went down to the Art Center School well, it was before 
then. I guess I was there earlier. But the Art Center School did 
get contract jobs from the army. One was to train an airplane 
workers photography group. And the other was to train young 
men for the signal corps. That was very interesting, and was 
really complex. Maybe that's worth a whole yak some time. Then 
there was the office of engineering management and well, it had 
three initials (I forget). The schools were given grants for 
training. But you had to have a minimum class; there had to be a 
minimum number enrolled. The Art Center manager would go out in 
the street and pull in the funniest people you've ever seen, you 
know, and say, "Come on, we've got a job, and it pays pretty well. 
We'll train you to be a printer." Our assignment was to teach 
people to be printers. Other schools had the negative developing 
classes. We would get reject negatives from the airplane plants 
by hundreds. All kinds of parts of planes detailed electronic 
stuff, etc., and the students would have to learn how to print 
them. Well, of course, it hit me right away how do they know 
what they're printing? I don't know what these things represent. 
There's no title. They're all either stamped restricted or there's 

So we started analyzing light on various substances. If you 
take a stainless steel tube, it will have a certain highlight. 
But the thing you first look at is the shadow, and if the shadows 
of all these little pieces are sharp, then you know a spotlight 
or sunlight was used. 

If the shadows are very diffused, you then have diffused 
light maybe available light in a room, or a big floodlight. 
Well, once you know what the kind of light is from the shadows, 
then you can figure what the highlight means. So you can then 
interpret whether you're printing for steel or plastic or fabric 
so we would ask these people, "What do you think this material is?" 
And they would finally get it; would study the negative and say, 
"This is a plastic sheath over here, and this is a metal tube," 
etc., and then print accordingly. 

Well, we got quite a commendation on the people who went to 
work in the plants because they could take a negative that they'd 
never seen before and print it and make some visual sense. It was 
a very interesting thing. 


Adams : 


Adams : 

Then I taught a group of people a "disaster group" in Los 
Angeles at corpse identification techniques. In case of 
disaster, how do you photograph? Well, we used a system of 
mirrors. And we'd go to the morgue and pull out somebody; then 
we'd place the mirror and photograph the profile and the full 
face in one picture. And the idea there was to make two prints 
one reversed for recognition. So somebody could say, "Well, this 
picture's a profile; it's right. And this other one is full face. 
It's right." And we had twenty people in that group. 

My last night in Los Angeles, I was up until nearly midnight 
in the morgue with a group of people making photographs and 
measuring and documenting. Then they had to figure out how when 
you have a disaster, you're not nicely laid out on a slab in an 
icebox, you're out there in the dust. And what do you do? And 
they had all kinds of techniques trying to just get identification. 
And numbers had to be placed in the image coded numbers and dates. 

And I arrived at Edward Weston's the next morning smelling of 
formaldehyde, feeling very weary having spent part of the night 
in the morgue. You picked up this formaldehyde effluvia very 
interesting stuff. Didn't bother me any those people were not 
worried about anything. [Laughs] 

Was your whole period of teaching at the Art Center School just 
in wartime? 

Oh no, no. No, we had a regular photography department, 
the war came on, and the whole school responded. 

But then 

Problems Encountered 

Adams: Several things I did for Fortune were preliminary in anticipation 
of the war. I never realized it until later. But the people who 
knew just said, "We're going to be in this, and we'd better get 
ready." I photographed [for Fortune] the big electric furnaces of 
Union Carbide in the town of Alloy [West Virginia]. Unbelievable. 
I don't know how they work them now, but the electrodes carbon 
arcs a single arc three feet in diameter, nine feet long, and 
three of them are screwed together. They were cast with threads, 
so they'd be screwed together into a single arc twenty-seven feet 
high carbon. And they would be grouped together in threes, 
operated by hydraulic controls, and the cauldron was as big as 
this whole place forty feet across. The voltage was only six 
volts, but it would have a tremendous amperage. And the current 
comes in in folds of copper not wires, but just thick bands 
ribbons of copper. 


Adams: Well, anyway, these great carbon electrodes come down into this 
mix slowly come down and make the contact, and it's just like a 
volcano! It displays absolutely tremendous power. They had a 
hydroelectric plant just for that purpose in that area. 

[End Tape 13, Side 2] 
[Begin Tape 14, Side 1] 

Adams: Now, getting back to this photography for Fortune , the photography 
of the electric furnaces at the town of Alloy, which is up the 
Kanawha River. I described these great electrodes, which were 
three feet across and twenty-seven feet long three of them 
bunched together. And the tremendous amount of electric power 
required. And when these things touched the mix (I think they 
call it the mix), it's something like a volcano. And they keep 
burrowing in, and producing tremendous heat. And finally the 
material starts to melt. It is steel and various alloy chemicals 
making up certain crucial alloy metal. 

Nobody is supposed to be in that place when the contact is 
made, because it'd be like being on Mount Etna during an eruption, 
you see. Well, I said I had to be there to make the photograph. 
So they made me an asbestos garment, and they made an asbestos 
shield for the camera. And I would stand there under the shield 
with my hand on the cable release, you see. One could see just 
the lens and my goggles. When the process began, I thought, "What 
am I doing here?" Pieces of molten metal were coming at you. And 
after about five minutes of this it quiets down and just starts to 
melt, and then finally the carbon arcs are used up. You see them 
dropping, slowly dropping into this incredible blue-white heat. 
I forget the temperatures. I think it was over 4000. It's one 
of the highest temperatures used in metallurgy. I wouldn't want 
to state it erroneously. 

Anyway, when they pour this "melt," it's blinding blue-white. 
And it runs out like water that seems much lighter than any water 
you have seen. It just pours out through the channels and you 
have to wear goggles. You can't possibly look directly at it. 
And they'd make these big ingots, and they go off to the mills. 

And then we had another job for the Gas Association,* showing 
the various uses of gas in industry and in the war. Oh, I did 
everything from gas baking crackers to annealing anchor chains! 
This was in Columbus, Ohio. I watched the chains come out of the 
annealing chamber, moving very slowly. There was a great pile of 
them. So they got a platform built, and I got my camera set up, 
focussed on where they would be. And I was to take these red-hot 
anchor chains as they were pushed out of this great asbestos crib. 

*National Gas Association. 


Adams: Orange-hot, they'd come out, moving very slowly. And I'd say, 

"Stop," and they'd stop the belt and I'd take the picture. "Let 
it go," and I'd take another one. And that was all rehearsed. 

And here I am up there, and the real thing's happening. 
This was in color. And out comes the chains. The heat was some 
thing unbelievable, you see never counted on that. So I'd yell, 
"Stop," I'd take a picture; "Stop," I'd take another one. Finally, 
my pants caught on fire. And I just grabbed the camera and 
jumped, because here was a pile of massive chains that would fill 
this room, and you're just about ten feet away from them. 

Teiser: What happens to color film in that heat? 

Adams: Oh, it doesn't make any difference. I got beautiful pictures. 

It doesn't get hot enough for the camera, but my pants came down 
nearer to them, and they just started to smolder. And I still 
have a burn scar on my leg from it. But it was quite exciting. 

These things happen to all photographers, sometimes much worse 
things I 

I think it was Eisenstadt some big Life magazine man who was 
up on the roof of a great cathedral oh, I know what this is: it 
was when they were building the fake Gothic Grace Cathedral in 
San Francisco in concrete. And the photographer was up there in 
the roof getting pictures from the top. He dropped his camera, 
and it fell all the way and landed on a little piece of wood just 
above the concrete floor and bounced over on some sacking no 
damage I [Laughter] People have all kinds of things happen, but 
of course all photography is not really glamorous. Most of it is 
very hard work, very boring waiting, fussing with equipment, 
worrying about lights, etc. I told you what happened with the 
round table group in the Palace Hotel. 

Teiser: Oh yes. [Laughter] 

Adams: And then the fact of getting somewhere and finding that you've 
left all your lenses at home. You've got the camera, film but 
no lenses. When I was very young, in the 1920s, I made an arduous 
ascent to the top of North Dome in Yosemite, with the most 
beautiful thunder clouds I'd ever seen. I exposed twelve plates, 
and came home and found I'd taken all the empty holders instead of 
the full holders. There are equivalent stories that every 
photographer can tell you. 

Teiser: You were speaking of Rex Hardy. I remember he had a story about 
his first assignment for Life, taking tine-lapse photographs of 
a flower opening in a greenhouse. He thought he was going to 
lead the glamorous life. 


Adams: I did an assignment for Life which was a begonia story. And that 
was to be fourteen or sixteen pages. It was a very lucrative 
story. I got a several-thousand-dollar fee and time and expenses. 
The begonias were up near Capitola, Santa Cruz, that area. Well, 
the problem was, of course, when you're working with begonias 
outdoors, the sunlight is very difficult and you have trouble. 
So we did them in the greenhouse. But we had to use certain color 
filters to balance the light through the greenhouse glass. One 
person said, "That's just diffuse light, so you don't need any." 
Well, you take one picture and you find you do. That light was 
very much toward the greenish, so I had to use magenta filters. 
And after working a week and having pictures taken, processed 
and looked at, I finally got what I wanted. That's before they 
had color-temperature meters. Now we have electric color- 
temperature meters that work well. They're very expensive, but 
they're really very elegant. They can tell you the Kelvin 
temperature in almost any situation. And they translate that in 
to what we call "decamirad" control. And you use filters as 
indicated to balance the light to the sensitivity of the film. 
The eye does that automatically, of course. You can be in blue 
skylight or warm tungsten or light and white paper still looks 
white to the eye, but not to the filml 

So I did all these pictures beautifully. I worked like 
a dog for three weeks. I understand the pictures were printed 
the whole insert of sixteen pages I saw the proofs. They were 
beautiful. They were all ready for an edition of Life. But "news" 
started happening, and they couldn't find enough space. Finally 
that whole begonia project was junked. They prepared a little 
story on begonias in which they used a couple of the plates, but 
that whole sixteen-page signature of color photographs a million 
copies or more was printed, and then junked. And that happened 
to so many Life stories. It finally came to the point when they 
could not afford such stories. It costs thousands of dollars to 
print one of these inserts maybe fifty or sixty thousand at least 
for that one. 

Teiser: You don't do your own processing when you do color? 

Adams: Oh no, I don't. A lot of photographers do. Life photographers 

sent the work back to Life. They had wonderful labs. Life bought 
whole "emulsions" of color. They'll order an emulsion and get the 
whole run from the factory. And they had their own testing 
laboratory so they could instruct the photographers what compensating 
filters were needed. But those days are over. Look went out, and 
Life will go out too.* And the future is in television and the 

*Life did suspend publication in December 1972. 


Teiser: Did you do any work with Look? 

Adams: I never did a job for Look. I was there once remember meeting 
Merle Armitage, the art editor at the time. He and I never got 
along. I've met a few people I don't get along with. Might as 
well let it go down on tape as a fact; it's bound to come out. 

Teiser: A lot of people didn't get on with him. 

Adams: Well, he is a strange man. He had an enormous amount of energy. 
He would plan or lay out a book and then have some company do it, 
like Ward Ritchie, which really did the design work, but he'd take 
the credit. The thing that bothered me all the time was that he 
took credit for things he really never did. He was a kind of a 
promoter a producer. And my first gripe was when he put out the 
first Edward Weston book quite handsome reproductions, although 
the whole job, type and everything, had a Vogue magazine feeling. 
I wrote a criticism of it, and he never forgave me. 

Teiser: What did you write it for for publication? 

Adams: Yes, it was a criticism for the Fortnightly here were these great 
photographs, but they were done in this kind of a slick Vogue 
magazine manner which defeated Edward Weston' s simplicity. But 
Edward Weston never got a bloody cent out of it. I thought that 
was terrible. Armitage would do that with people, you see. He'd 
say, "Well, I'll make you famous," or, "I'll get a book out for 
you," and so on. But I just don't like the guy never did and 
never will, and I think the feeling is mutual. [Laughter] And I'm 
on tape too. 

There are very few people I've met in my life that I really 
dislike. I've been very lucky only one or two organizations I've 
had any trouble with. Most of the time it's been on a good, 
logical human basis and most people have been good. I've had a few 
sour moments, like working on an advertisement for the telephone 
company, and when we got into Virginia and into the deep South 
it was real "anti-nigra" you know, that kind of business. And 
that got me down. It was very difficult. 

Teiser: Did they want you to take pictures of a certain kind? 

Adams: No, it had nothing to do with that. It was just their own human 
attitude. Had it all the time it was an obsession, you know. 

But one very amusing thing a little town in Virginia, and 
the story of these ads related to "how does the telephone 
representative help the community." Well, in small towns as, for 
instance, in an Ohio River community (I forget the name of it), 
this man put in a water system for them; he got pipes and he laid 


Adams: it, I had to photograph an old lady turning on the first spigot 

in her sink cold water. Everybody else had to go down to the town 
well. She was the first one that had cold water come into the house. 
And this was all done by a telephone employee very carefully 

Well, we got to this place in Virginia where there was another 
telephone man. But we couldn't figure out what he did. What did 
he do for the community? He had a complicated job taking care of 
all the telephones. That wasn't the point. It finally came out 
that he'd helped people understand their phone bills. He'd 
interpret the telephone bills to them. There was a horrendous old 
lady who ran the grocery store and the mortuary, and she agreed to 
be photographed talking with him in the car he sort of explaining 
things to this weird character. We did it over and over. It was 
hard to cooperate. It was very hot, and the light was not right, 
and we had to come around and do it again. We tried to get 
spontaneous things I was using a Hasselblad. And finally she says, 
"Well, I guess we've done all we should do. You know this is 
annoying my mother." And here was this old lady sitting at the 
second-story window; she must have been ninety or more. Our woman 
was seventy. I saw this woman up there glaring down on us, you 
know. [Laughter] What an experience! So we got out of that fast. 

Then I had to get a picture of the man who was taking care of 
the nitrogen-measuring units many of the cable telephone lines are 
filled with nitrogen at slightly more than atmospheric pressure, 
which keeps moisture out if there's a leak. These people have to 
climb the poles and take the reading, just like you would blood 
pressure, with a mercury device. They plug it in and they check it. 
Here I was out with a truck with a lifting platform. We had to get 
this thing done fast. We had two days to finish. And it was 
sleeting. I've never been so cold in my life. And this guy was 
all dressed up, and he was up here he was all right at the top. 
And here's me with the camera and no warm overcoat. This sleet is 
drifting down and getting on the lens , and I was trying to get this 
person working. It was a pretty good picture, though; came out all 
right . 

And then there was another one of the cable splicer. That was 
done with just one tungsten lamp. That's one of my best things. 
It was made with a 60-millimeter Hasselblad lens down in this tunnel 
where he was splicing cables. He'd been doing it for twenty years; 
that was his job. 

And the people who came here to put in our new phone system 
the other day oh boy, were they efficient! They have been doing 
it for years. Whether they ever advance or not, I don't know, but 
they know how to handle cables. You'd be surprised at the complexity 


Adams: of this little three-line telephone unit in this house. The control 
box looks like a mouse's eye view of a television set, you know 
relays and everything you can think of. 

Teiser: I hesitate to start a whole large new subject at this point but 

maybe I should ask you about Yosemite, your workshop, that we'll be 
looking in on soon. 

Adams: We'll be showing a series of photographs. We have an overhead 

projector, which can show small prints project them on the screen. 
The reflected quality is not very good, but for identification it's 
all right. 

I think it's the ideas that develop when you look at a print 
that are important. For instance, the man the guard standing by 
the cannon in the Brady picture. Well how long was the exposure? 
How long was he standing there? Was he asked over into this 
particular position for composition reasons? Has somebody just 
said, "Stand there and hold it," you see. 

"Making" and "Shooting" Photographs 

Adams: There's a very interesting comment, which I'm inclined to agree 
with, by Ruth Bernhard, who is quite a person. She said we have 
all kinds of colloquial terms in photography, and one is, "I'm 
going to take a photograph." Now, taking a photograph is a bit 
aggressive. We make a photograph that's productive. Why do we 
say "shoot"? That's the modern term. Why do we say "we made this 
shot" or "we shoot a photograph"? If we say we take a photograph, 
then what do we do when we operate the shutter? We expose the film. 
But it's common practice now it's in the dictionary this "shot" 
that means a photograph. When you stop to think in terms, 
psychologically related violence you shoot, you have a shot, you 
take. As against now what does a painter do? He doesn't do 
anything like that. He observes and sketches and he draws and he 
paints. But these aggressive terms relate to photography, as if 
somebody was pointing at you with a gun. And a lot of people express 
a certain amount of aggression through use of these terms. And a lot 
of inferior photographers are very aggressive people. I'm inclined 
to think there is a relationship there, although I'd like a 
psychologist to clarify it. 

When you stop and go back and think of the connotations, it 
really makes a lot of difference. I can't imagine Stieglitz "shoot 
ing" anything, and I don't go out and "shoot" landscapes. It's 
really kind of an immediate thing, you see. It's a newsman's term 
you grab it, you shoot it. But it still has a very strange 
aggressive overtone to it. 


Teiser: Would you say, "I'm going out and make photographs"? 

Adams: Yes. "Let's go to Point Lobos and make some photographs." Not 

taking them that was the old Indian idea a lot of tribes in the 
world today have the same thing, that when you make a photograph 
you're taking something away of their souls, you're extracting 
something. Something comes from the person into the box and 
disappears. And the early philosophy of light was a strange 
illogical concept that light was like bullets that originated in 
the eye, went out to the subject and bounced back! 

But if you take these terms, and look back in time on them, 
you find that there are very strange connotations. And I suppose 
one would be, "I'm looking at you. I'm burning you with my gaze," 
and I can't do that at all. I can look at you, but I can't give 
you a "burning" glance, you see. And the photograph itself it's 
almost fundamentally an invasion of privacy, either of people or 
nature. It's not a memory which you sketch; it's a thing that can 
be made at the moment. And that tree is my "victim," for instance. 
It can't fight back. 

Teiser: The reaction of people to photographs brings to mind the use of the 
Polaroid Land camera to give people pictures immediately to 
reassure them, or something of the sort. Does it work? 

Adams: Oh, it works tremendously well. Not for sophisticated people who 
know what it is but people travel in various countries around the 
world and they find that some of the inhabitants are scared to 
death of cameras. But they make a picture and give it to the 
subject and immediately there's a sympathetic rapport established. 

Well, a very interesting thing is what I experienced in 
1928-1929 in the hill towns of New Mexico. These natives would 
cooperate, and we'd come back and give them a print or proof. And 
the native turned these pictures all around he couldn't "read" 
the picture as being anything to do with reality. I mentioned that 
once to Margaret Mead, and she said, "Oh yes. That's very common. 
There's many primitive races that have absolutely no ability or 
understanding of translating the pictorial image to reality." Now, 
I am sure the cave paintings and other primitive art forms can mean 
something definite. But when you show primitives a real photographic 
image they may not comprehend. 

Teiser: You mean not even another person who knew that man could believe it 
was his image? 

Adams: No, he couldn't believe it. He'd never seen that aspect of the 


Adams: Then another thing is, the daguerreotype was so tremendously 

popular because it is a mirror image, and it's the only way that 
people ever see themselves. You only see yourself by looking in 
the mirror. Now, I take a photograph of you, you're seeing you as 
I see you, and having seen yourself only in the mirror all your 
life, you may not be very happy with the result. The daguerreotype 
is really that was a very important step. And it was called I 
forget who used the term "the mirror with a memory." 

Printing and Papers 

Teiser: You were speaking of mercury as being unstable 

Adams: It's not unstable, it's just poisonous. 

Teiser: No 

Adams: Oh, mercury intensification of the negative. Oh yes. 

Teiser: But isn't mercury a factor in the image in a daguerreotype? 

Adams: Yes. But that's quite a different chemistry. Intensifying by 

mercury is simply, as I remember, building mercuric salts around 
the silver. It has a tendency to just dissolve, dissipate in time 
the negative fades, turns a bad yellow. But you remember that in 
the earlier days, when you created a yellow or reddish image, you 
held back light, you see. And we have a thing that's called "new 
coccine," which has been used about a hundred years, which is a 
reddish dye which you can apply in different degrees to the 
negative. Take a shadow area and just put a slight wash of new 
coccine, and that will hold back the area, because the photographic 
papers are not sensitive to red or to green. 

I was using today my Codelite, an enlarging light of both green 
and blue light for variable contrast papers. I can see a brilliant 
image on the enlarging screen with the green light, but the ordinary 
"graded" paper won't respond to it. It only responds to blue. 
Putting the new coccine on the negative will strengthen shadows, 
but that can be grossly overdone. 

And then, of course, there's the same thing in intensifying 
negatives. The only safe intensifier is the Kodak In-5, which is an 
intensifier which actually adds silver to the existing silver image. 
And it is permanent. And the interesting thing is the five-solution 
formula. You have to mix up five different solutions silver 
nitrate, elon, sulphite then you mix up (well, I forget), but there's 
five different solutions you blend in different quantities, then you 
use that to intensify the negative. 


Teiser: Let me ask you one question that slipped down in my mind when you 
were talking about printing-out papers. Isn't the kind of studio 
proof print paper that they use now printing-out paper? 

Adams: Well, they have two kinds. They had the solio type, and you'll see 
it has kind of a red brick color. But now Kodak has what is called 
a proof-paper, which is a developing-out paper. Lousy quality. 

Teiser: But the red is a printing-out paper? 

Adams: Yes. It can be toned into very beautiful colors by various 

processes. It's good paper but archaic in style. When it's toned, 
it's as permanent as anything. 

Teiser: Is it used much? 

Adams: No. The paper stock is so bad, and I don't know what toner you'd use 
now a lead acetate perhaps. This chemistry gets rather complex. 

Teiser: So it isn't worth it? 

Adams: It isn't worth worrying about now. They make a paper in England, 

I've been told, which is a good printing-out paper. But it requires 
various toning procedures. 

Now, we had beautiful results at the Art Center by subjecting 
one of these prints to a few seconds in a hydroquinone developer, 
arresting development and then putting it through the regular toner. 
And we got a very rich tone. We never could duplicate it, I guess, 
because we couldn't count seconds accurately enough I 

No, I don't think these things are terribly important. They 
get into complicated chemistry and physics , and even if we do get 
them clarified, they don't have much meaning, because they're always 
changing or being discontinued. 

But the principle of the auto-masking printing-out paper still 
is very important. What's called a "mask" in printing if I have a 
very contrasty negative, I can make a very delicate positive mask of 
it, or a reverse mask, on which builds up density values in the 
shadows. When I put mask and negative together, I get a more 
balanced negative. But there's always something the edging or the 
strange feeling about appropriate tonal value. I have not used a 
mask for years. In color, the masking is used all the time to balance 
different values. But if those masks don't absolutely align, it's 
terrible. And in most of the color reproductions you see, the masking 
is very bad. Because you may have illogical color effects, and you 
have fuzzy edges . 

Teiser: Well, I think we've kept you too long. 


Adams: We got a lot of facts today. We didn't get much continuity, 
[End Tape 14, Side 1] 

More on Photography Workshops 

[Interview XII 30 June 1972] 
[Begin Tape 15, Side 1] 

[Between the last interview session and this, several weeks passed. 
There was a break during which the twenty-sixth annual June workshop 
in photography at Yosemite under the direction of Ansel Adams was 
held. The interviewers attended several sessions of it.] 

Teiser: We were both tremendously impressed by how interested and serious 
people were at the workshop. 

Adams: It was a very nice group this year very little trouble. I never 

have any real trouble, but sometimes we have a few people that want 
more or aren't getting what they expected. God knows what they 
expected. I think we give them more than any workshop of its kind 
I know of, because we begin with the setting, and then the staff is 
very inclusive. I thought the whole thing was very exciting. You 
got a lot out of it? You felt good about it? 

Teiser: Yes, yes. I was interested in the range of people who attended. 
There were some very good young students, I thought. 

Adams: A few more young people this year than there were last year. I think 
maybe ten more. We didn't have any repeaters only one or two. But 
we had a pretty broad bunch, pretty good cross section. 

Teiser: I realized that some of them were definitely there because they were 
interested in professional photography 

Adams: A few professional, but most of them are creative there's a 

Teiser: I'm sorry; I mean photography as a vocation not "commercial." 

Adams: Well, you see, commercial work is a bad term. That means you run a 
studio and you do nuts and bolts and machinery and copying and all 
this stuff. Then you have the professional photographer who's really- 
he's "commercial," but he does primarily advertising or portraits 
brochures, etc. Then the purely creative photographer is like the 
photo-poet. He does the equivalent of easel painting. And if he 


Adams: makes a living with it, he's professional too. A lot of the young 
students are trying to find themselves, and the important thing is 
to develop new attitudes towards photo-appreciation, an approach 
which applies to all cultural effort. The other aspect of study 
would apply to strictly training in professional work. Too many 
people are being trained towards professional work that are never 
going to make it. There's a glut in the market. They're going to 
be very unhappy. 

Then there's the other level which we don't know much about, 
which is out of my field that's the technological the photo 
science. There's instrumentation and the study of photographic 
science and the making of color prints, processing color, photo 
optics all these really advanced technical things which are not 
necessary for the professional or creative photographer to know. 

Dick Julian gave a fine talk on optics, and some of the kids 
were bored with it; they thought it was dead. "Why do we have to do 
that? Do you have to know how to make a piano?" "No, but I have to 
know how to voice a piano, and I should know how to tune it, and I 
should know that when I get a false harmonic something is wrong 
somewhere. And besides, I think it's very important to know a lot 
about lenses, because it explains a great many things that the 
average photographer suffers by not knowing. I mean, like what is 
focus-shift, how do you overcome it? What is chromatic aberration?" 

I think all of those things are important parts of knowledge. 
Now, how to make a lens, or compute a lens well now, that would be 
something else! I couldn't make a piano. 

When I got the new car today, I said to the man, "I take that 
car out, and in one block I know it's a good automobile. And why? 
I've driven over a million miles and had many cars. I can't describe 
it, but I just feel perfectly at home with it." The other day I got 
in a car, and I wouldn't have it as a gift. My son's got a Jaguar 
he's mighty proud of, and for me it's a terrible automobile. It's 
rough on the road, it doesn't steer well, it has no room, and I feel 
very unfriendly. And it's a $9000 automobile in this country! He 
got a good buy on it in England and got it over here through the air 
force. But you just can't describe those things, what the feeling is. 

As soon as I got in that station wagon today "This is it." Got 
a wonderful bargain. Only gone six thousand miles, and $1200 off, and 
a safe car. You can look around for a month and not find anything 
that good. 

Teiser: For someone interested in photographing as a major part of his life's 
work, I should think there's nothing comparable to those workshops. 

Ansel Adams with students, Yosemite Photography Workshop, July 1972 

Photography by Puth Teieer 


Adams: Well, there are many, many workshops. They're now practically a 
glut on the market. In the first place, the word "workshop is 
very bad. It's not a school. We have only a demonstrating darkroom, 
as you saw. We usually run for two weeks or less, so we can't have a 
semester or a quartera long drawn-out program. We give them ideas 
in rather machine-gun fashion and demonstrations, and we hope if they 
take their notes they can go home and remember it and benefit. 

Now, the seminar is where you have discussions. We're going to 
have this big one with the Friends of Photography in August, and 
we're having all the arts represented dance, philosophy, poetry, 
painting. And everybody's going to come and rap. There'll be 
sessions where people will probably ask different and difficult 
questions. There won't be much discussion of technique. But what 
is technique? Technique is the application of mechanics. Well, for 
what purpose? You don't just go out and expose the film on a 
mechanical basis. 

Of course, my approach with the Zone Systemand everything in 
that directionis a matter of visualization. You're supposed to 
have enough technique to "realize" your visualization. 

We have the seminars. But the workshop is where we demonstrate 
and show prints, talk and argue. We get into some heated arguments, 
you know. We get somebody like Barbara Morgan who comes in with 
whole new ideas; Ralph Putzker presents totally different ideas. 
He's very much like [Edward] Kaminski who taught at the Art Center. 
They may not be the least bit interested in the Zone System, for 
instance. They're just agitating people to see. 

And Brett Weston sets up his big camera, and puffs his pipe and 
lets people look into it. Of course, he seldom goes through making 
a picture. That always worried me. I like to know what you can see 
and how you would "realize" it. 

All in all, it's a very vital thing, and I'm very pleased with 
it. We're going to continue it. I'm stepping out of the programs 
more and more. I only have three workshops I'm connected with, and 
maybe will get down to one. But we're going to have as many 
workshops, symposiums, and groups as we can manage. 

The whole system of education is, you know, in quite a mess. 
I'm just old-fashioned enough to think that somebody at the school 
knows more than the student, otherwise there's no reason for the 
student going there. When the student starts to tell the instructor 
what he should be taught, it doesn't make any sense. Now, it's 
perfectly true that the instructor might have poor taste and less 
imagination. But it's presumed, as a general rule, that the teacher 
knows more than the student. 


Adams: And in music that's very important. In photography and in many 

phases of the university, the students have wanted to write their 
own course. Well, how can they? They can say, "I want to have Black 
studies." I think that's wonderful. And, "I want to have something 
to do with contemporary economics." But they can't tell the teacher 
what to teach. If they could, they'd be up there teaching, you see. 
It isn't a matter of putting one person over the other, or of any 
superiority or inferiority of personality. It's just that I know 
more than most student photographers; that's why I'm teaching. As 
soon as they know as much as I do, they'd be teaching too.' Of course, 
in a figurative way, I learn a great deal from them because of their 
reactions. Very often, a student will come out with a very fine 
solution to a problem that I'm very thankful for. But, basically, 
they don't know sensitometry , and they don't know a certain amount 
of history, and they don't know applications. So they come to the 
workshop to get the ideas we can impart. 

Teiser: The session at which you discussed other photographers' work and 
showed examples to them I was interested in how carefully they 
looked at the pictures and how carefully they listened to what you 
were saying. 

Adams: That's my collection. 

Teiser: Your collection of photographs, yes. And everything you said meant 
something to them and they stored it up until they saw the prints. 

Adams: Which confirmed the ideas. That's good. 
Teiser: They were thinking hard. 

Adams: Well, they pay a lot. These workshops are not cheap. And some of 
them have an awful time paying for it. But we can't do it for less 
and do it well. We give them everything we can, and they'd better 
pay close attention. The average workshop I've been around is the 
most slapdash, lackadaisical about one-sixth or one-seventh the 
intensity of this one. People do a lot of yakking and no work. Then 
there are other workshops that work very severely over a full weekend. 
The student goes out and makes the picture, develops the film, makes 
the print. Well, that's all right. But I think during that time, 
they could be getting a lot of ideas which they could apply later. 
I'm not entirely in favor of crash programs. It might be very 
stimulating, but when you add it all up, it's only one situation 
which is only partially resolved. 

Minor White and his people they do wonderful work, and they 
have a totally different concept from mine. 

Teiser: Your discussion of the students' work, when they brought it you, I 
thought must have been very helpful to them. 


Adams: Well, yes, I'm glad you felt that. That's very touchy because I 
guess you were there when I made the prelude statement that it's 
unfair to really evaluate someone's work unless you know something 
about it and something about them. So all you can do is to first 
go through the prints fast. I get an all-over picture, and my 
computer's working and I'm not even looking carefully. I just look 
and follow the reactions I like this, don't like that. You say that. 
Then you go back and you look closely and all you can do is try to 
find out what the student wanted to say and then observe how did he 
say it. Now why he said it, or how his personality influenced his 
work, we have no way of telling. And it would take me a long time to 
learn somebody's work and the person well enough to sit down and say. 

I was interested in your reaction to the teaching because that's 
been a very considerable part of my life and it's been one that's 
very controversial, because there's more argument and dissension in 
the teaching world than in almost anything else. And some people 
teach in the most casual, off-hand way. Kaminski, who was a great 
man at the Art Center School, comes to mind when I think of 
imaginative teaching. He would get middle-western kids who'd never 
had a bright idea out of a church-social society. They were 
absolutely amazed at all the things going on. They had no imagination 
to begin with. They had learned a little mechanics. Kaminski takes 
them out to the beach and he may bring a faucet and a pipe that's 
been painted and dipped in white plaster. Then he has a few grape 
fruits, a couple of doll heads, a pipe an incongruous collection.' 
He finds some seaweed and junk and puts it all together and says, 
"Now make these things relate." They all stand there looking goggle- 
eyed. "What do you mean?" Well, he shows them: seaweed has a shape, 
the faucet has a shape, the pipe has a shape think of a square and 
how the rhythm is oh boy, they really do begin to see that there are 
relationships of shapes. And, while it sounds terribly corny, it 
still is tremendously effective. 

Ralph Putzker tried that. Barbara Morgan is a very confusing 
speaker in the sense that she gets so vague and symbolic that nobody 
can ever follow her, but everybody knows what she feels, and she 
becomes a wonderful teacher and person. And she's always looking for 
these things called relationships. Well, I use a little different 
term, but it adds up to the same thing. 

A young person who doesn't know much is more open and alive to 
that kind of thinking than a more or less well-trained habit-formed 
person who has gone to camera clubs or has read books on "rules." 
Now, did you go to Fred Parker's lecture that night? 

Teiser: No. 


Adams: Well, I wish you had, because that was very enlightening on the 

contemporary sense. Nine-tenths of what he showed and what he said 
is completely out of my world and I have little to do with it, 
personally, at all. But it represents very important areas of 
photography like contemporary art versus Cezanne. 

My trouble now with some of my colleagues here in Carmel is that 
they say, "Of course, you and I wouldn't do a thing like that. And 
of course there's no reason why you do have to like it." 

But it is , you see; it exists , and therefore it has to be 
evaluated. And a person who isn't a photographer, but trained in 
art history and criticism, isn't always the right one to make those 
fundamental evaluations. I can get very upset about something from 
my point of view "It's hideous. Why do you photograph this thing? 
I wouldn't." But then you stop to think, "Well, why is it hideous?" 
A man saw it, goes back in his psyche and his perceptions, and he 
creates in a certain way. And if it's done well, it's perfectly 
obvious something is achieved. That's why we want to get more and 
more people with different and contemporary attitudes. 

Teiser: Are you speaking, in general, of nonrepresentational photography, or 
contrived photography? 

Adams: Oh yes. contrived may include positive-negative images, solarized 
images, etc. 

Teiser: Tortured pictures, in short? 

Adams: Well, some may look at them as that. So I have to struggle with the 
dichotomy of my personal judgment and my personal work. That's why 
I should never run a gallery or direct an exhibit. I've done it many 
times and I've had to be very objective, and it's very painful for 
an artist to be objective. 

I don't much like Cartier-Bresson. I don't get any deep reactions, 
I have the greatest admiration for him for what he's done, but his 
pictures don't move me at all. But I can't just go back and say, 
"They're not good because they don't move me." 

It's like a lot 
a lot of Chopin. I 
personally bore me, 
say that they're not 
denying junk. Junk' 
Prokofiev and Webern 
marvelous structures 
problems . 

of music. I love Bach, and I love Beethoven and 
can think of quite a number of composers that 
especially a lot of the contemporaries. I can't 

good for that reason. I'm not saying I'm 
s perfectly obvious to everybody. But a lot of 

and some of the really contemporary things are 
and they generally are solving their particular 


Adams: A lot of collectors in art collect nothing but names. I know some 
people that have very fine personal art collections, and the 
paintings have nothing more to do with their personality than I have 
to do with a space flight. They're collecting names, and also 
working through a series of values. The dealers convince them that 
it should be that for this Utrillo. "You can get one or two Cezannes,' 
and the values will go up." "You paid twelve or fifteen thousand for 
the Utrillo and it's twenty-seven now." Or, "I can exchange it for 
two of these, and that will probably be an advantage," etc. And you'd 
be surprised; they get great pride out of it because these paintings 
are very good; they're tops in the field. But they don't have any 
feeling for them. They don't buy it like I did that little Donner 
ceramic by the front door, which really hit me like a ton of bricks. 
I thought, "That's marvelous'." and I got it. I believe it's good, 
but I don't say that I think it is a great work of art. I'm not an 
expert in judging it. 

Teachers and Critics 

Adams : 
Adams : 

Adams : 

The man you speak of at the Art Center 

He's dead now. It was Edward "Eddie" Kaminski. 

When did you first go to the Center? 

Around the late thirties forty 

Was it before the Golden Gate exposition? 

Yes well, it was before that, and during that. 
in time. I went there to teach. 

It's all mixed up 

How did you happen to be willing to go to Southern California to 

Well, I thought the Art Center School was pretty darn good, and they 
sold me on it. 

I'll tell you one experience, though, that was really one of 
these turning points: at four in the morning I was loading the station 
wagon in front of the studio at Yosemite all the cameras and the stuff, 
And it was one of the most magnificent dawns, you know two morning 
stars and the sound of the water. And I suddenly stopped and I said, 
"Am I going away from this? Am I crazy?" And I almost started to 
unpack the car. Then I realized, "No, I've contracted to go there." 
And really, this was a very strange thing because it seemed as if 


Adams: somebody was saying, "Don't, don't." Same thing happened going East; 
same thing happened again it was so strong when I was supposed to 
go to England a year or so ago to give a lecture. Just "no." I 
mean, I was tired, I had books to do, I had things to finish, I 
wasn't sleeping at night. And I went to the doctor and said, "I've 
got to make a decision." He said, "Well, if you feel that way don't 
go." I said, "I've got all these things to do, and now I'm supposed 
to go to England. How can I get out of it?" [He said,] "I'll write 
you a letter." So he wrote me a letter saying it was "inadvisable 
in your present fatigued condition to undertake anything further." 
And I sent a copy of my letter along to my friend in the Royal 
Photographic Society in London saying I couldn't do it. That wasn't 
a contract. It was just to let them know I could not come to give 
the Cox lecture (an important "funded" lecture) . But I had this 
horrible feeling that I shouldn't go don't! 

And I had not as strong a feeling about Los Angeles , but 
Yosemite was like a siren enticing you back. And I often wondered 
if I hadn't done that, would the Zone System ever have come into 
being which is a very important thing. 

Teiser: Did you develop that when you were at the Art Center? 

Adams: At the Art Center. And the interesting thing was that the reason 
that was done was because I was trained as a musician and as a 
teacher the whole training was that you never allow the students 
to hear you or "duplicate" you, imitate you. And none of my teachers, 
with the exception of one which didn't last very long, ever played 
for me. It was a philosophic thing. I had to do my own shaping, my 
own expression. And it would be verbalized or discussed or criticized, 
but never in the sense of imitation. This teacher in Berkeley [Marie 
Butler] taught with two pianos and she had a marvelous responsive 
class and talented people, and they all sounded exactly alike. She 
was a disciple of E. Robert Schmitz, the French pianist, and she 
sounded just like him. She played extremely well, and I imitated her 
played by ear. I got through with the E flat major sonata of 
Beethoven and it didn't sound like me at all. I've never been able 
to quite clear that up back to the way I want to do it. It's always 
been the one thing that was an imposition of style that is not mine. 

But Frederick Zech, who was a pupil and assistant of Von Billow 
he was eighty years old. He could flow up and down the keyboard in 
chromatic double sixths a fantastic pianistic technique. He would 
say to me, "Now, you know better than that. You did not crest that 
phrase. You did not read that ff } that accent. Now think of it 
like a cathedral in that shape." I mean, that's teaching. Now if 
he had just played it, then you sit and you play it, pretty soon you 
disappear and it's the teacher's pattern of expression that wins. 


Adams: The same thing with Minor White in photography. He dominates his 

students. You can always tell a Minor White student because they do 
work like him. They look like him. After awhile they do get out 
of it, and he encourages them to get out of it. But he has to teach 
in that sort of didactic [fashion]: "This is the way. This is what 
you should feel, you think you enter into it." And that's mysticism, 
and "I am the guru." It's never put in words, but it's just implied. 
That's why he and I he wrote a little forward to this forthcoming 
monograph [Ansel Adams ] . We first thought we couldn't use it because 
it stresses a point that "in spite of doing what Adams does," he still 
likes what I do. But there's always that slight reservation, and 
everybody caught it. (It was modified for use.) I have to say, 
"Well, I'm not the editor. You didn't say anything wrong, or anything 
questionable." If anybody asked me to write a critique of Steichen, 
I suppose I'd be almost that bad. I mean I'd try to say, "Of course 
he's very important in the history of photography, but I do not react 
personally to him." [Laughter] Therefore, I shouldn't write it. If 
I have that feeling about it, I could not write a critical essay. 

And I must say one thing, that when Nancy [Newhall] put on the 
big show in 1963, one of the photo magazines paid her husband, 
Beaumont, to come out and write a criticism of it. And he wrote a 
very scholarly criticism in which he traced my different periods and 
how I had developed in certain directions. He returned to New York 
and showed it to the editor and the editor said, "Well, I guess this 
is fine. But my God, man, can't you find anything wrong with it?" 
And Beaumont said, "The essence of criticism is not finding anything 
wrong. If it's completely wrong you make no comment. You just say 
it's a failure or don't mention it at all. Fine criticism is 
enlightenment. You make a comment on a work of art and help somebody 
to understand it." 

And that's the trouble with Marjorie Mann and some of those 
people. They're rather belligerent and destructive. And those 
people are often wrong. They usually have made paranoid personal 
decisions which don't just hold up. Marjorie Mann is, however, a 
very well-read and intelligent person. 

Teiser: When Alfred Frankenstein ventures into criticism of photography, 
which he does sometimes, is he knowledgeable? 

Adams: No, not much in photography. He is much better now, but he was always 
associating photography with some other set of standards in art. But 
among all of the art critics, he was the best I mean in terms of 
photography. He really did some very good criticism. Sometimes he'd 
go completely off the beam, because he didn't understand the medium 
and he'd try to relate it to a school of painting or a nonphotographic 
approach. Still, I have a great love and affection for him, because 
he really has tried terribly hard to relate photography to the other 
arts . 


The Development of the Zone System 

Teiser: Back to the Art Center School you taught there, then, and developed 
the Zone System so that students would have a system to work on their 
own. Is that it? 

Adams: It was a system of technique which would liberate them to do anything 
they wanted to do creatively. And Fred Archer and I Fred Archer was 
the man who taught portraiture, and he was very sympathetic. I 
realize sometimes I don't give him enough credit, although I did all 
the theoretical work and the checking. But he made some of the first 
applications. It's not easy to figure out exactly what happened. 
Then we got the Weston meter people very much interested, and one of 
their men made us a mimeographed Zone System chart exposure and 
density is on a logjn basis, but going as sensitometry sometimes does 
from the center positive numbers up, negative numbers down. And the 
good man, who was an engineer, forgot the 0.0 point, which is, of 
course, arithmetic one. So he started with 2 plus, or 1/2, and after 
about a month of trying to make this thing work, we suddenly realized 
that this man had just made a wrong graph. Nothing would come out. 
In the log sequence you start with 0.0, and that period doesn't mean 
a decimanl point! 0.0 is one, and 0.3 is 2, 0.6 is 4 and 0.9 is 8 
and 1.2 is 16, and so on. Then it goes the other way same thing in 
minus 1/2, 1/4, 1/8. So if you leave out the 0.0, and just go minus 
0.3 and plus 0.3 you have a difference of four you have from 1/2 to 
2. So we had a wonderful time of it [laughter] clearing that up. 

Teiser: But you worked out this system systematized this principle, I suppose. 
It was developed for the immediate use of the students there? 

Adams: Yes, it is only applied sensitometry. There was nothing that I could 
invent . It's like the silver transfer principle in photography, which 
was known fifty years before Edwin Land invented the Land process , 
which is a silver transfer process. Everybody knew that silver 
"transferred," but didn't know how to control it. So if Land had 
suddenly discovered this principle, why, he might have gotten a Nobel 
Prize, because it would have been a new basic concept. But it wasn't, 
it was an old concept that nobody had ever used. Nobody had the 
ingenuity to make the silver transfer possible, and Land made a great 

The Art Center School 

Teiser: Your students at the Art Center they were, as you described them, 
not very sophisticated when they enrolled. Did they take to this 


Adams : 

Adams : 







Well, when they came they certainly weren't sophisticated, and they 
had a period of "filtering out," and the people who got to the 
second or third year had to be pretty darn good. The most important 
division in the Art Center was probably the industrial design 
department. I think it probably still is because many of the top 
designers in automobile factories now are graduates of it. 
Advertising, commercial art, industrial design, and advertising 
photography; it was not a creative place. I used to have terrible 
arguments with Edward Adams (they called him "Tink" Adams no 
relation), the director, and I finally left because he wasn't the 
least bit interested in what I would call the creative or poetic 
approaches. It was all dramatic advertising he put great emphasis 
on crafts, and some of his design work is just magnificent. He had 
some painters who were working in the commercial art field who were 
terribly good Alexander King, a great colorist. Kaminski was a 
painter, but he was the ideal gadfly, and he was appreciated as such. 
He just upset everybody, but in a very wonderful way. I mean, he just 
knocked the props out of conventional approaches. So that was quite a 
place. Now it's a foundation, a nonprofit institution. And I 
understand it's pretty good. 

The photographer who does great aerial work 
Bill Garnett. 

Yes. I was reading some place that he had studied at the Art Center 
at one time. Was that that same period? 

I think so. Can't remember the people with whom he studied. And a 
lot of people Charles Cur ley, and Eaton they were really very fine 
professionals, and they taught a lot of people the basic techniques. 
But there's a case where Garnett is so superior to anybody who ever 
taught him. You know, he's really a great artist. 

Was that your first experience in teaching in an established 


And then your second would have been 

California School of Fine Arts. We set up the department. Well, I 
did have a class for six weeks at the Museum of Modern Art in the 
thirties. And I also had a weekend in Detroit. 

The Museum of Modern Art; I read that you gave a series of lectures 
there in 1945. 

Adams: That was the class. 

Teiser: I see. 


Adams: I can't remember these dates. 

The California School of Fine Arts 

Adams: I guess we started the department at the California School of Fine 
Arts around 1945. The School of Fine Arts program was just after 
the war. 

Teiser: At that time there was a great resurgence of the creative arts, 
wasn't there? 

Adams: That was terrific. In fact, Eldridge Spencer was president of the 
Art Association and encouraged the formation of a photography 
department. I went out to the Columbia Foundation and got $10,000 
to put in a lab. Then we started interviewing students. We had one 
or two very productive years, in which very good work was done fine 
student stuff turned out. But it was taking all my time, and I was 
missing assignments. Life offered me an assignment to do a Canadian 
story, which would have been a six months to a year job. I couldn't 
do it because of this school commitment . 

Minor White came as a student first, and then he took over the 
department, and that started that particular regime. 

Teiser: Was it he who started what was perhaps a fad for small photographs 
for display? 

Adams: Yes, he made 4 by 5s, and that was my encouragement, though, because 
I believed students should spend a year with a view camera doing 4 by 
5s, not worrying about enlargement. Just "seeing" and making 
beautiful prints. Edward Weston portraits were mostly 4 by 5. Scale 
is entirely relative. 

I'm making too big prints now. I should get back to the 8 by 
10s . But I have the equipment and I go to the 11 by 14 , 16 by 20s . 
It's awfully hard to move back. 

Teiser: You stayed with the California School of Fine Arts about two years 

Adams: At least two, and Minor took over. William Quandt, he was one of my 
students he became an assistant to Minor. He was a very fine 
photographer. Pirkle Jones is a very fine photographer. I think he's 
teaching at the San Francisco Art Institute, which is the present name 
[of the school] . 


Adams: But after Minor left, as far as I'm concerned, it very seriously 
deteriorated. It became an "idea blender," which is good in its 
way, but people are turning out inferior images. 

Teiser: I still see the effects of that one period, though, in exhibits, 
even among young photographers who are studying now. 

Adams: Well, it was semiclassic. It was sort of the f/64 impact on straight 
photography. You never know. 1 You can sometimes say, "Well, So-and-so 
started a trend," and then you really get into it and you find that 
it's really somebody else, some other set of conditions. But a lot 
of the stuff I've seen coming out of there now certainly has nothing 
to do with anything we stood for at that time. There's no reason it 
should. It's just a fact of life. The thing that does bother me is 
the lack of emphasis on technique, on mechanics. This simply inhibits 
the student from saying what he has to say. This relates to music: 
if you don't have a keyboard technique, you just can't play good 
piano! There isn't any way out of it you can make sounds and you 
can probably convince a cult or a group around you that you're trying 
to say something, but still you can't communicate. If I can't write 
seventh-grade English text, no one's going to read me. And some of 
the stuff I see recently gives the impression of being later- 
kindergarten stage. 

Large Photographs 

Teiser: You were mentioning large prints. I think I have read that the 

first mural size prints you made were for the San Diego Fair. Is 
that right? 

Adams: Yes, the Yosemite Company ordered some prints from me for the San 
Diego Fair. And they advanced money to put in the darkroom in San 
Francisco so that I could do it. Never an entirely generous 
attitude. I mean I had to pay for it, amortize it over several years. 
But I did get some fine large pictures made. Now I have a problem 
of getting some huge things for the Museum of Science in Boston, but 
I'm not going to do them myself. [Telephone rings] 

[End Tape 15, Side 1] 
[Begin Tape 15, Side 2] 

Teiser: I took that opportunity to turn the tape. We were talking about photo 
murals. Would you ever have thought of making that huge print if you 
hadn't had that specific order? 


Adams: Well, just before the war, Secretary Ickes appointed me photo 

muralist for the Department of the Interior, with the idea that I 
would go around the national parks and make photographs which could 
be used as big mural installations. I never thought of making the 
prints; I just thought of directing the making of the prints. 

Now, we have to clarify something: a mural means something on 
the wall, and you paint a mural or a fresco. If you make a photograph 
and paste it on a wall, it's probably the worst thing you can do be 
cause it contracts and swells and wrinkles and curls, and the wall 
settles and you can have a series of catastrophes, and usually the 
adhesive you put it on is hygroscopic and makes it perfectly terrible- 
fading, etc. 

So I make fine quality big prints limited in width to thirty-nine 
inches. We do it in the form of panels. I did make one years ago 
that was 12 by 18 feet a picture of Half Dome; I did it in sections. 
The sections were mounted on panels and put up like a double screen 
with dividing lines. It was extremely effective. It still remained 
a good print; it was not plastered on a wall. 

The only good photographic paper is forty-inch width, and of 
course it's impossible to process single-weight paper adequately; 
it's so delicate, and the basic processing and adequate washing 
required would crack and crease it. 

There's an awful term called "blowup," which just means an 
enlargement "without consideration." Most photo murals are blowups. 
They're pretty terrible. They're usually toned (bleached and toned) 
in silver sulphide and come out an egg-yolk-yellow sepia [laughter], 
which is perfectly horrible but very permanent. That's the reason 
it's done. They've reduced the silver to silver sulphide, which it 
would naturally gravitate to if it wasn't well processed, only it 
wouldn't do it evenly. 

I can make prints up to seventy-six inches high and thirty-nine 
inches wide. And I make screens I've made five-panel screens and 
four-panel screens, but they have fine print characteristics. They're 
not just blowups. And they're also rather costly. It's a terrible 
job. The large print is $2500 plus, and a screen would be about 
$10,000. It would have to be 

In making a screen you first have to make your dummy, you have 
to know just where to divide the image, and you have to plan the 
divisions so that when the screen is folded you don't get a 
displacement of diagonal lines. You have also to consider frame and 
hinge space. It really is an awful job. Then you have to do it in 
the enlarger and scale it exactly to be sure you have the required 
"safe" overlaps. Then you have to plan carefully controlled exposure 


Adams: and use pretty big sheets of paper for tests to get just what you 
want. Then when you make the screen, you expose each section in 
sequence and you develop them, each one in a fresh developer, 
exactly under time and temperature control so that they will match. 

And when that's all done, you feel happy. You make at least 
two or three of the complete screens while you're doing it. You 
tone them, and you have to be sure the toning is equal. Every time 
you put a section through a bath it has to be a fresh bath, so I'll 
use up ten dollars worth of toning solution in making a screen. 
But, after all, time is the most important thing. And making big 
prints is very expensive and when you throw away well, let's say, 
every time I make a large print order for that Half Dome picture 
say 30 by 40 inches I would probably use an entire roll of paper. 

Teiser: How much 

Adams: Well, it's about thirty dollars. 

Teiser: No, I mean how many 

Adams: Oh, I might use up eight feet. The rolls come in 40 inches by 30 
feet or 40 inches by 50 feet. I can manage a 50-foot roll, but it 
"squeezes" my equipment. They make it in 100- foot rolls, but the 
trouble is now that Kodak and other manufacturers are restrictive. 
With certain items like Kodabromide rolls, you have to order at 
least $300 worth. You see, that's what they call a restricted 
order. You can't just go to the store and buy them they ship to 
order from the factory. And with certain films I was trying to 
get some Tri-X Ortho the other day you can't buy less than a 
hundred sheets. You used to buy twenty-five-sheet boxes, but there 
was not enough sale. So they make them in this "restricted" 

Teiser: That reminds me that perhaps you know why they pack twenty-five 
instead of twenty-four to a box. 

Adams: They got into the decimal system. And it was one of the craziest 

things in the world ten (ten is all right, because that would take 
five film holders), and twenty-four would be good, because it would 
take twelve film holders you know, two sheet films to a holder. 
But they decided on twenty-five. Well, when you're traveling, 
there's always a waste of one film. And it's partially decimal. 
Now, if they had twenty, thirty, or fifty, but they decided on 
twenty-five, and there's always a film left over when loading 
holders, and very seldom do you save and use it. And the film packs 
were then stepped up to twelve and sixteen films each. Well, that 
means you should expose the entire pack; you can develop eight at a 
time it's pretty hard to develop sixteen at a time. It's all in 
the lap of the gods, because they've talked about canceling the film 


Adams: packs. Film pack is the simplest way for people who work in the 

field with 4 by 5 cameras. But nobody can tell them what to do, and 
Eastman's the only one that makes them. Ansco used to, but they 
never learned the secret of avoiding scratches. Probably Kodak will 
end up by making film packs to order (maybe) . 

Teiser: Back to the mural Mrs. Eldridge Spencer told us the story about a 
large photograph for the Mountain Room at Yo Semite. She said she 
wanted to crop the photograph in a way that you thought was entirely 
wrong, and she won! 

Adams: She insisted on a detailed image of Sequoia foliage. She wanted it 
fifty inches wide, and I could only do it forty inches. So we had 
Moulin make the print , and Moulin charges so much a square inch 
and would never think of making two prints. And I told her, I said, 
"I'll let Moulin do it, but it's got to be a good print." I think 
I insisted on three before he got it, and of course he charged for 
every one of them. And it added up it was a big charge for a 
lousy job. She bought a group of twenty or thirty fine prints made 
especially for the room. Then there were some mountain climbing 
pictures made for the Boiler Room, which is a very good technical 
job great huge climbing pictures. I don't know who did those. I 
think General Graphic enlarged them. General Graphic did much 
better than Moulin. 

Teiser: Do you make a photograph with the idea of its final size? 

Adams: Oh yes, that's a basic conceptual idea of what's a photograph for. 

Now, I do a lot of work for Polaroid Corporation, and I always think 
in terms of 11 by 14 or of 16 by 20 from the Polaroid negative 4 by 
5. I always try to think, "Will this really enlarge? Can I make 
it?" I know that's what they want. I mean, they have these great 
rooms and halls and they want pictures of that size. So I try to 
think of that. 

Teiser: Most of the murals that you have made or that have been made from 
your negatives were the photographs taken as mural photographs? 

Adams: Yes, the ones for the Park Service, many of them were done with 
processing that was favorable to big enlargement. I guess I had 
one of the Grand Canyon that was going to be twenty feet high and 
fifty feet long. It never has been made. And then I'd done 
Coloramas for Kodak sixteen of those things, which are twenty feet 
high and sixty feet long, in color. But of course those were all 
produced in Rochester. I used my 7 by 17 banquet camera for the 
color film. I had lots of fun. But large size is a conceptual 
matter. The best photograph in the world can be on 4 by 5; "blowing 
it up" to a big size might ruin it for both technical and aesthetic 
reasons. So I have people who say, "Well, I'd like an over-mantle 
of a certain picture." I say, "You can't have it; it won't go that 


Adams: I had a problem the other day. A lady her daughter died, and she 
wanted to give something to her sorority at Bennington. She wanted 
a picture of the "Moon and Half Dome," which is from a Hasselblad 
negative, 2 1/4 by 2 1/4. And she wanted it to be four feet high. 
I asked, "How's it going to be seen? It's only from a very small 
negative. And if you want it four feet high it's got to be seen 
from a considerable distance or it'll look terrible." We finally 
got it down to twenty inches high framed, and it is placed over a 
mantelpiece. It is seen very close, so it still looks acceptable. 
But if it had been forty-eight inches high, the average person 
would have sensed a certain grossness in it. [Telephone rings] 

Well, where was I? Oh yes the photo mural. I hate that word. 
I simply say I make a large fine print, and it has to have fine 
quality and be absolutely permanent. To get that quality, there 
are many things that have to be overcome, like reciprocity effects, 
long exposures in the enlarger, and the extraordinary amount of 
handling these prints have to have. They're developed and processed 
by rolling. You take a print six feet long and just roll it and 
adjust the development to give you five- or six-minute developing 
time. And it's rolled back and forth maybe fifteen times and maybe 
five times in the acid stop and fifteen more times in the hypo and 
five times in the rinse, then goes back to ten times more in the 
plain hypo, and at least ten or fifteen times in the toner and at 
least six times in the hypo clearing, and at least five times 
rinsing, and then maybe twenty-five times in the washing. So it's 
a miracle that the print gets out without having breaks and folds. 
But it has to be done that way to be permanent. 

Then it has to be carefully mounted. 

Photographing a Potash Mine 

Teiser: To go back to the 1930s, 1936 was the year of your exhibit at An 
American Place. Was that the same year you did the U.S. Potash 
series in Carlsbad, New Mexico? 

Adams: Yes, I think so. 

Teiser: I think you said that Horace Albright had asked you to do that. 
But was that your first large industrial photography commission? 

Adams: Well, I guess it was the largest I'd done. I'd done several other 
things, like the Shewan-Jones winery, and single pictures. But I 
think that potash thing was probably the largest at that time. 


Teiser: The Shewan- Jones winery, while you mention it that was a remarkable 
construction at that time, wasn't it? They must have been very 
proud of it. 

Adams: That's probably the best little winery of its kind in the state. 

It's the first time the new equipment was brought in [after Repeal]. 
It's still functioning. 

The Carlsbad job that's Carlsbad, New Mexico was a very 
interesting story. They wanted color photographs. I took 5 by 7 
Kodachromes with an enormous amount of flash lights, and worked for 
days in the mine, with the men working on scaffolds and handling the 
big tools. And oh, the pictures came out just beautifully. And 
everybody was happy. And I went into Mr. {Thomas] Cramer's office, 
who was one of the mine foremen, and put these things up in the 
viewers, and he started to turn ashen gray. "We can't use these," 
he said, because the people had used wooden planks in the metal 
scaffold, which is absolutely against mining law. They were supposed 
to use trussed steel metal planks aluminum, and they hardly ever 
did. There wasn't one that was right, one that could be used, 
because we were showing a violation of the basic mining safety laws. 
They were using 2 by 10- or 12-foot wooden planks, which sagged. 
These men are up there with big machines and hammers, and here's 
two or three together; theoretically a plank could break. I had 
absolutely no knowledge of this rule. The superintendent was fired. 
Oh boy, it was a terrible thing. They had to be all done over. 
That was not easy! 

Teiser: Is the ore white? 

Adams: No, it's wonderful amethyst a purple amethyst color. It's very 

hard to photograph. The least bit of overexposure and you lose the 
color. So we did dress the men in shirts warm, different-colored 
shirts and there was some color. But I was surprised how the 
amethystine quality did come through. 

Then another very funny thing, I wanted to get a picture of 
the plant a great cloudy sky and the plant in the distance with its 
big stacks. So I found a place, and determined the right time of 
day. Bunches of nice clouds; it was that time of year. I went over 
to the engineer and said, "Now look, I've got it all figured out. 
About 2:30 p.m., if you can just stoke up these stacks to get the 
feeling of smoke in the wind " Well, he nearly died. "Any smoke 
comes out those stacks," he says, "I'll be dumped off Staten Island. 
You know, we burn natural gas and there ain't never no smoke." 
[Laughter] I'd built up this fantasy of this industrial scene, but 
there was never any smoke. The stacks were just for a draft, and 
in the cold morning there was a little vapor. I've never lived that 


Adams: But there's one note the engineer left. I was coming around to do 
some details, and he left this note for the evening shift. "Their 
(sic) will be a Mr. Adams coming to make photographs. Please be 
kindly and corporate (sic) to him at all times." [Laughter] But it 
was done with such warm feeling 

Photographing the Carlsbad Caverns 



Adams : 

Did you take pictures of the Carlsbad Caverns at that time? 

Yes, then I went down in the big caves and did many pictures. Used 
up millions of flashbulbs that time. That was very difficult, 
because the humidity down there was almost total. The temperature 
was 56. So all of the cardboard cartons of the flash globes would 
just come apart, and the globes would just roll out in the mud. 
We'd have to put these lamps in reflectors, and use an electric 
torch to compose the lighting, expose, set up another lighting 
situation, expose that, and when all were exposed, put the slide 
back in the holder. What we didn't realize was that the humidity 
was so high, and the film of the period was so sensitive to moisture, 
that the film would expand, and we got "double images" from 
sequential exposures. About two-thirds of all the pictures I did 
in two weeks time, with great effort, were all double-imaged. 

How did you solve it? 

Didn't I mean, I had five or six good ones; that's all I got. 
That was chiefly black and white color too. But, you see, you 
and/or your assistant pulls out the slide and opens the shutter and 
takes the picture. Then you go over and connect the current to that 
bank and take the second picture on the same negative. Glass plates 
would have been perfect a very massive tripod was used and every 
thing carefully placed and figured. But the film would just expand 
with the dampness! That's what you find out through experience. 

How many minutes did elapse between your first and last exposures? 
Oh, five or ten minutes. 
In that short a time! 

Oh yes. Now, modern film, Estar-based film, as they call it (I 
think it means Eastman synthetic plastic), has what they call great 
dimensional stability, and it doesn't absorb water and doesn't 
change dimensions in the heat. But in those early days, you were 
just using nitrate film, and when nitrate film disintegrates, 
especially when it's in bulk and packed together, it exhibits a 


Adams: hygroscopic effect acquires water, and becomes nitroglycerin! So 
that's the great and continual danger of having the old nitrate 
film around. The great Cleveland Clinic disaster was due to x-ray 
film nitrate base; the fire started and the film just blew up. 

I have nitrate film out here, but they're all in separate 
envelopes and dry no humidity problems so they are safe. 

Teiser: When you had the fire at Yosemite, was that ? 

Adams: Yes, we lost a lot of negatives they were on nitrate film. But 
there wasn't enough of them to explode. And they were all in 
separate envelopes. It's when they are packed together without 
separating sheets they are dangerous. I went in to see Clarence 
Kennedy in his office at Smith College, and he said, "You know, I've 
lost some of my best negatives. I've got them here in the drawer." 
And he opened it up, and here was a single envelope full of negatives, 
without anything between them at all, that had all become semi- 
liquefied. If anybody 'd been in there with a cigarette, the whole 
top of the building would have gone up. I remember picking those 
out and saying, "If you don't mind, let's get this out of the 
building." And he was so surprised to find that it was really 
nitroglycerin. Well, not in a very pure form, but enough to really 
do a lot of damage. Nothing you could do to save them at all; they 
were absolutely ruined. 

Teiser: The Carlsbad Caverns photographs, were they made for the Department 
of the Interior? 

Adams: Yes. I worked out these two things together the mines and the 

caverns photographs. I was down there for six weeks. That's where 
I met a lady whose husband was one of the executives of the company. 
She was a very fine musician. They'd been at Williamsburg it was 
all Rockefeller business. He was sent out to analyze the finances 
of the Potash Company. She had a Broadwood piano, an English piano, 
which was either a piano that Beethoven had played or was a close 
serial number. They weren't quite sure. It had been magnificently 
restored, and it was a beautiful thing, and it gave the impression 
of the way Beethoven heard piano music. It's just amazing; there 
was no chance for bass octaves the keyboard wasn't big enough. So 
when we play Beethoven now, like the Harmerklavier Sonata, you get 
the high octaves as written, but not the lower ones. So you just 
wonder what the whole concept of music was, because the instrument 
was totally different, and this was really authentic it was in use 
around 1812, something like that. 

Teiser: It was at Carlsbad? 

Adams: Yes, she had it in her home in Carlsbad. They were delightful 
people taught me a lot. They returned to Williamsburg later. 


Teiser: I think perhaps we should let you off with a short session this 
evening . 

Adams: Oh no, go ahead. Few more minutes. Sure, anything you want. I 

enjoy it. The last few days were hard because I was trying to think 
of all the little details and personalities who did this to inhibit 


Well, what was your next subject? [Laughter] 
things it's very relaxing. 

I love these 

Preserving Negatives 



We mentioned the fire in the darkroom at Yosemite. 
negatives and you had some marred. 

You lost some 

I'd come back from a trip with Edward Weston and Charis. Somebody 
came pounding at the door and said, "There's a fire in the darkroom." 
So we dashed out and, sure enough, there was a fire. The firemen 
were there, and all I could think of, of course, were the negatives. 
So I dashed into the center room, with hot water coming down from the 
ceiling, and getting soaked, and reaching for and grabbing boxes of 
film and pulling them out. I would rush out, throw the negatives on 
the ground, and dash back to get more. You know, this hot water 
there was an awful lot of steam; you had to hold your breath. I 
saved a great many negatives, but many of them were partially charred. 
I remember, the last time I was in I saw that the dry mounting press, 
which had a porcelain switch on it everything else was just covered 
with smoke, but this switch was bare. So this little German 
photographer [who had been working in the darkroom] had apparently 
left it on when mounting, and the thermostat had failed, and this 
started the fire. But he'd gotten in and turned it off, because it 
was the only thing that had been wiped off, and